Tag Archives: Self-censorship

Self-censorship in the US, by Judith Bergman

Remember different opinions, public expression, and arguments, sometimes heated? Those are fading remnants of the US that once was, replaced by “wokeness,” cancel, and self-censorship. From Judith Bergman at gatestoneinstitute.org:

  • The US nominally enshrines the most far-reaching freedom of speech, thanks to the First Amendment of the Constitution. Yet the average number of Americans who self-censor is slowly beginning to approximate that of Germany, where… “Nearly two-thirds of citizens are convinced that ‘today one has to be very careful on which topics one expresses oneself’, because there are many unwritten laws about what opinions are acceptable and admissible”.
  • It is, however, not surprising. American campuses have steered a “leftist” course for decades. The tilt has had familiar consequences: the proliferation on campus of “safe spaces”, trigger warnings, de-platforming of conservative voices and a “cancel culture” aimed at professors and students who do not conform to an on-campus political orthodoxy that has become increasingly totalitarian. Most recently, the dean of University of Massachusetts Lowell’s School of Nursing, Leslie Neal-Boylan, was fired by the school after writing “Black lives matter, but also everyone’s life matters” in an email to students and faculty.
  • When citizens stop voicing their concerns in public about current events, policies and ideas out of fear that they will lose their livelihoods and social standing, it is — or should be — a huge problem in a democracy.
  • A democratic society of fearful citizens who dare not speak about what is on their minds — often important issues of their time — is doomed to succumb to the will of those who bully the hardest and shout the loudest.
A democratic society of fearful citizens who dare not speak about what is on their minds — often important issues of their time — is doomed to succumb to the will of those who bully the hardest and shout the loudest. (Image source: iStock)

A recent survey of 2,000 Americans by Cato Institute/YouGov found that 62% of Americans say “the political climate these days prevents them from saying things they believe because others might find them offensive”. This is up from 2017, when 58% agreed with this statement. “Majorities of Democrats (52%), independents (59%) and Republicans (77%) all agree they have political opinions they are afraid to share”.

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Surveillance Breeds Meekness, Fear and Self-Censorship, by Glenn Greenwald

Just knowing somebody is watching you can change your behavior. It definitely does when the government is doing the watching. From Glenn Greenwald on a guest post on theburningplatform.com:

A newly published study from Oxford’s Jon Penney provides empirical evidence for a key argument long made by privacy advocates: that the mere existence of a surveillance state breeds fear and conformity and stifles free expression. Reporting on the study, the Washington Post this morning described this phenomenon: “If we think that authorities are watching our online actions, we might stop visiting certain websites or not say certain things just to avoid seeming suspicious.”

The new study documents how, in the wake of the 2013 Snowden revelations (of which 87% of Americans were aware), there was “a 20 percent decline in page views on Wikipedia articles related to terrorism, including those that mentioned ‘al-Qaeda,’ “car bomb’ or ‘Taliban.’” People were afraid to read articles about those topics because of fear that doing so would bring them under a cloud of suspicion. The dangers of that dynamic were expressed well by Penney: “If people are spooked or deterred from learning about important policy matters like terrorism and national security, this is a real threat to proper democratic debate.”

As the Post explains, several other studies have also demonstrated how mass surveillance crushes free expression and free thought. A 2015 study examined Google search data and demonstrated that, post-Snowden, “users were less likely to search using search terms that they believed might get them in trouble with the US government” and that these “results suggest that there is a chilling effect on search behavior from government surveillance on the Internet.”

The fear that causes self-censorship is well beyond the realm of theory. Ample evidence demonstrates that it’s real – and rational. A study from PEN America writers found that 1 in 6 writers had curbed their content out of fear of surveillance and showed that writers are “not only overwhelmingly worried about government surveillance, but are engaging in self-censorship as a result.” Scholars in Europe have been accused of being terrorist supporters by virtue of possessing research materials on extremist groups, while British libraries refuse to house any material on the Taliban for fear of being prosecuted for material support for terrorism.

There are also numerous psychological studies demonstrating that people who believe they are being watched engage in behavior far more compliant, conformist and submissive than those who believe they are acting without monitoring. That same realization served centuries ago as the foundation of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon: that behaviors of large groups of people can be effectively controlled through architectural structures that make it possible for them to be watched at any given movement even though they can never know if they are, in fact, being monitored, thus forcing them to act as if they always are being watched. This same self-censorsing, chilling effect of the potential of being surveilled was also the crux of the tyranny about which Orwell warned in 1984:

There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You have to live – did live, from habit that became instinct – in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.

To continue reading: Surveillance Breeds Meekness, Fear and Self-Censorship

 

The Death of Free Speech: The West Veils Itself, by Giulio Meotti

There’s no censorship more effective than self-censorship, since whatever is censored never even sees the light of day. From Giulio Meotti at gatestoneinstitute.org

• The West has capitulated on freedom of expression. Nobody in the West launched the motto “Je Suis Avijit Roy,” the name of the first of the several bloggers butchered, flogged or jailed last year for criticizing Islam.

• Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, sided with the Turks. She condemned the German comedian’s poem, called it a “deliberate insult,” then approved the filing of criminal charges against him for insulting the Turkish president.

• The West is veiling its freedom of speech in the confrontation with the Islamic world: this is the story of Salman Rushdie, of the Danish cartoons, of Theo van Gogh, of Charlie Hebdo.

Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, just released an interview with Italy’s largest newspaper, Il Corriere della Sera, where he suggested a kind of grand bargain: We Iranians will discuss with you our human rights situation, if you Europeans suppress freedom of expression on Islam.

Last week, Nazimuddin Samad sat at his computer at home and penned a few critical lines against the Islamist drift of his country, Bangladesh. The day after, Samad was approached by four men shouting “Allahu Akbar!” (“Allah is great!”) and hacked him to death with machetes.

These killings have become routine in Bangladesh, where many bloggers, journalists and publishers are being killed in broad daylight because of their criticism of Islam. There is a hit list with 84 names of “satanic bloggers.” A wave of terrorism against journalists reminiscent of that in Algeria, where 60 journalists were killed by Islamist armed groups between 1993 and 1997.

But these shocking killings have not been worth of a single line in Europe’s newspapers.

Is it because these bloggers are less famous than the cartoonists murdered at Charlie Hebdo? Is it because their stories did not come from the City of Light, Paris, but from one of the poorest and darkest cities in the world, Dhaka?

No, it is because the West has capitulated on freedom of expression. Nobody in the West launched the motto “Je Suis Avijit Roy,” the name of the first of these bloggers butchered last year.

From Bangladesh, we now receive photos of writers in pools of blood, laptops seized by police looking for “evidence” and keyboards burned by the Islamists. We receive images reminiscent of the riots in Bradford, England, over Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses in 1989, ten years after the Ayatollah Khomeini had revolutionized Iran into a stronghold of Islamic extremism.

Yet the stories of these bloggers from outside Europe remain shrouded by a ghastly transparency, as if their death has been only virtual, as if the internet had become their grave, as if these fallen bloggers did not deserve the virality of social networks.

There is also the case of Raif Badawi, in Saudi Arabia, sentenced to 1,000 lashes, ten years in jail and a fine of $270,000 for blogging thoughts such as, “My commitment is…to reject any repression in the name of religion…a goal that we will reach in a peaceful and law-abiding way.” The lashing order added that he should be “lashed very severely.” In addition to that, Badawi’s human rights lawyer, Walid Abu al-Khayr, was sentenced on July 6, 2014, to 10 years in prison. He was accused of: “inciting public opinion,” “disobedience in matters of the sovereign,” “lack of respect in dealings with the authorities,” “offense of the judicial system,” “inciting international organizations against the Saudi kingdom” and, finally, for having founded illegally, or without authorization, his association “Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia.” He was also forbidden to travel for fifteen years after his release, and fined 200,000 riyals ($53,000) according to Abdullah al-Shihri of the Associated Press.

To continue reading: The Death of Free Speech: The West Veils Itself