Internet Censorship in a Globally Connected World

Who controls information?

State censorship of media continues to expand on the Internet. The latest battle over censorship comes by way of India.

Meant to be broadcast on International Women’s Day 2015, India’s Daughter investigates what led to the rape and death of Jyoti Singh Pandey at the hands of numerous male assailants. Produced by the BBC, India’s government condemned the documentary and banned it from being screened within the nation’s borders.

The country also successfully petitioned Google to remove digital copies that were uploaded to YouTube.

While India’s Daughter investigates gender inequality, which remains a persistent problem throughout the world, state intervention and censorship of the Internet also raises concerns.

Internet censorship undermines the unfettered access to diverse viewpoints and information that ideally moves freely across and through transnational spaces. Censoring oppositional and critical views limits the scope of the Internet as a tool. It also reifies hegemonic practices that marginalize those most susceptible to ridicule and subjugation.

India’s successful censorship campaign is not isolated.

Protesting SOPA and PIPA , two acts that would give censorship power to government agencies. Image via Brian J. Mathis. (Flickr)

Protesting SOPA and PIPA, two acts that would give censorship power to government agencies. Image via Brian J. Mathis. (Flickr)

The United States has frequently used its power to censor information it does not want released to the public. China, as well, has an infrastructure and workers dedicated to censoring diverse political views across multiple media platforms.

These countries are hardly alone.

Blatant or concealed censorship is a practice many throughout the world want to end, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.

Despite widespread censorship, some companies have shown a commitment to developing web presences that bypass the indexical qualities with which most of us have become familiar.

Labeled by many as ‘Darknet,’ this version of the Internet relies on peer-to-peer sharing of information. Because there is no tracking system, users are able to mask their locations in addition to insuring their anonymity.

Facebook is one such company that has increased its presence on the Darknet in order to allow users to access it in places where the service is banned. While this enables users to connect to each other and share information, it obfuscates the broader issue of state intervention of what appears on the Internet.

Framing the Global Visiting Scholar Carolyn Nordstrom has a different take on the Darknet, suggesting such spaces can sometimes aid in the destructive tendencies of some hackers.

“It’s in front of all of our faces, but we don’t see it, and we deny it exists,” she says.  “The facts are terrifying, but what is more scary is what we don’t see.  I’m an optimist.  If I can see it, I believe it can be fixed.  The fix to the spread and power of cyber warfare will take the efforts of a generation of new students.”

(You can watch Nordstrom’s visiting scholar talk here.)

Still, the utilization of a non-indexed Internet opens potential avenues in which individuals can bypass state-imposed or requested censorship. With the dedication of those with access to a broad public platform and loosened censorship, perhaps we can begin to address the disparities that grow ever more apparent the closer we come to each other.

You can follow us on Twitter: @FramingGlobal.