I oppose any and all forms of censorship. At least so I thought.
Now, I’m not so sure anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I still honestly think I do, but I am beginning to question whether my actions corroborate this, or, in fact, disprove my words and thoughts.
Here’s the thing: yesterday, I deleted a bunch of comments on an article of mine (a thousand pardons for this act of shameless self-promotion, but here’s the article I’m referring to). And, I have to admit, I feel vaguely uncomfortable about it. Mind you, without going into too much detail, the comments had little, if anything, to do with the article, but rather constituted a … less than amicable… discussion concerning personal issues. So, as a means of (how shall I put this?) … maintaining the integrity? … of the article and comment thread, I deleted those comments.
This might not seem a big deal. Nevertheless, the question I can’t help asking myself is this: did I impose arbitrary censorship (the horror!)?
(www.mideastposts.com, artist: Eric Drooker)
Well, I did delete/oppress genuine expressions of other people (which leads me to the question whether self-control equals self-censorship? If so, I might have to revise my initial statement that I oppose any and all forms of censorship. Self-control is not without its value.). At the moment, it felt like the right (o such an ambiguous term) thing to do, as the content of the discussion quickly devolved into personal insults. Now, however, I find myself torn between three positions:
(1) Absolute and implacable freedom of speech: any and all type of comment is allowed. This might result in spam, insults, and the like, but that’s the price to be paid for a completely open place of expression.
(2) Freedom of speech, with limits: most comments are allowed, but those that are personal insults, or otherwise offensive, will be deleted.
(3) ‘The Blog-God complex’: My blog/article. I can and will delete whichever comment I don’t like.
All three positions have their downsides, however. The first might quickly result in an online ranting place, a refuge for content that is otherwise avoided. The third one is completely arbitrary, making the blogger a despot of sorts. The second one seems to be the most sensible, but also has its issues. How do you avoid the ‘limits’ of free expression to be arbitrary? What’s insulting or offensive for one person isn’t necessarily for the next. So, by determining the boundaries of allowed expressions, can you really prevent cultural/ideological arbitrariness? Let me rephrase that: is there an objective means of determining which content is offensive? I have my doubts. Besides, by avoiding offensive comments, one still effectively limits freedom of speech, however sensible it might seem.
Perhaps then, the notion of censorship should be subdivided into different types? Examples would be political censorship, religious/ideological censorship, corporate censorship, and moral censorship. In this case, the only type of censorship I would find myself guilty of, is the moral type. But still, the problems remain. Regardless the censorship type, how do you prevent arbitrariness? And further, are the lines between the different types always that obvious? Again, I have my doubts. Thus, the subdivision of censorship doesn’t really solve any of the problems.
Then, another way of attempting to limit arbitrariness might be to conform to the values of the majority. However, the majority isn’t always right, nor is this any less arbitrary. Just because a large amount of people find something (in)offensive doesn’t mean this constitutes an objective (and not arbitrary) means of determining the limits of free expression. Once again the problems are not solved here.
The questions, then, remain, as does the moral dilemma I find myself in. Is the price of absolute freedom of speech worth it? If not, how much arbitrariness would one be willing to introduce in determining the limits? And how can this arbitrariness, in turn, be limited?
As always, (all?) comments are invited.