This article is on the dangers of employing censorship as a tool to manage discourse.
The act of censorship is seldom an initial goal for those starting companies, running for office, or moderating online discussion boards. Authorities who employ tactics of censorship and silencing typically understand that human instinct does not hold censorship in high regard.
Though they may accept the fact that public pressure will rise should they begin to censor, they don’t quite grasp censorship’s tendency to turn those in power and control into fringe and frail witnesses of their own demise.
The Seal Is Broken: Social Reward Provides False Confidence
Not many groups or entities formulate their publicized action plans or mission statements to include growing into a censoring monstrosity. The group in question can be a corporation, a community, or a conglomerate which connects its metrics of success to cookie-cutter goals of unity or positivity.
Somehow, implementing tools to censor ideas grows into a sensible people management strategy.
Typical calls for censorship within any specified domain tend to grow out of infighting among its members, followers, supporters, or subscribers. The simplified mechanism of censorship’s inception involves members, employees, or users becoming divided enough to birth dialogue which can no longer be civilly managed.
The division among members of any group, company, or service escalates and culminates in a proud select few escalating confrontational dialogue. Calls for violence, hate speech, bigotry, and racism are often the early and deserved culprits to censorship’s employment by any figure of authority.
Censorship is ushered into existence when the things that are censored surpass it in perceived damage caused. Those overlooking the community at hand pick a side – often having no choice – and embark on eliminating the opposing side’s dangerous ideas and dialogue. Those on the fringe of a problematic side’s position are picked off first, having committed offenses deemed punishable first.
Infighting among members of any one group gives rise to tactics of warfare above all else. Calls for a need to maintain safety, civility, and order are used as convenient reasons to eliminate the opposing viewpoint. Opponents of those censored will cheer for such censoring ways even though they understand the stain that any censorship leaves on the idea of free speech. Opponents of the censored will rationalize – often lazily – their support of censorship by an authority figure.
The seal of free expression is broken when the first deserving culprit(s) is / are eliminated from a group in unprecedented fashion. Companies can refuse service to customers deemed worthy of censoring, governments can fine civilians deemed worthy of silencing, and employers can fire workers deemed to be saying the wrong things.
These initial acts are almost always rewarded by members of the same group who see those censored as their enemies. Positive feedback garnered rests on ideas that those censored were problematic enough to be alone without any form of support or worthy arguments for their position. This is often true, and calls to reconsider an authority’s censoring ways tend to be shot down and discredited by attributing such warnings to be defending the words of those indefensible individuals who have been silenced.
A positive feedback loop is established in which censorship grows popular within a given environment as those censored are deemed indefensible by their peers.
Further Censorship Is Accepted Because Initial Acts Provided Immediate Relief
Censorship wouldn’t be a tool attractive enough to implement if it didn’t achieve at least some of its advertised effects. The short-term reward for censoring the most brash and politically incorrect is their silence. Censoring problematic individuals rewards their detractors – both peer and authority – by way of the censored individuals’ absence from discourse.
The initial move to censor is the most rewarding one of all subsequent acts of censorship because it silences the most problematic individual(s) first. With that experience backing an authoritative party’s decision to censor, further acts of censorship are implemented against consequent problematic individuals who are next in line. Akin to building up a tolerance for a controlled substance however, every future act of censorship is a little less rewarding and a little more damaging to the host.
Each additional act of censorship is less rewarding from the perspective of eliminating the most problematic opinions. No matter the overall size of the group being managed, those on the extreme spectrums of opinion are finite in number. The most problematic ones get censored, so what’s left are those a little less so. Close survivors of censorship’s guillotine slide into the top spot for candidacy as their more extreme peers fall by the wayside.
The cutoff for who deserves to be censored next adopts a more liberal definition by default. Those who aren’t as extreme as those already silenced – but who now occupy the closest position to the line of censorship – are set to be gobbled up.
The momentum of that creeping standard is seldom put on pause. The people getting censored grow less and less problematic compared to initial wrong-doers. As that happens, legitimate questions should arise as to whether continuing to censor the harshest offender is the right decision as it was in times past.
Questions around the legitimacy of continuing to censor after starting aren’t given enough credence due to the understanding that censorship works and achieves immediate tactical goals. When teetering on the line, troublemakers are likely to get consumed by the hand that censors rather than give birth to reason for censors to creep no further in their determination of who gets censored.
The Trigger Finger Itches at Adversity: Nuanced Takes and Counterpoints Labeled as Wrong-Think
The trap those censoring soon fall into is one of being unable to stop without turning into hypocrites. Since those censored second were likely less extreme than the first in their offenses, those third in line are doomed for even less.
As censorship is introduced and becomes a tool made available for use, justifying why those before were censored but those today are not yet silenced becomes difficult to do. If there is outrage against existing members of a group calling for their censorship, the managers of said group will find it difficult to simply refuse to censor any longer if the crimes are subjectively comparable.
Those in search of ideological victory will yell, “Why stop now?”
Those wielding power to censor will end up being liked by nobody if they stop censoring after only a few rounds. Should they stop this habit in its tracks, supporters of the ones censored prior will question any arbitrary decisions made in times past. In the same light, angered crowds calling for more people to be censored will question the arbitrary reason(s) for refusing to censor going forward.
What those wielding power to censor seem to overlook is it becoming more difficult to stop as more people get their tongues ripped out. The more you censor the more reasons there are to censor others in the future. If authority figures were to censor one person and simply stop, their use of censorship could be explained away.
The more that tool is used, the more difficult it is to argue that censoring is only for extraordinary offenses. It becomes par for the course – a tool in the tool bag that is administered against a variety of people for a plethora of reasons.
The longer it goes on, the likelier it becomes that those simply looking to introduce nuance and counterpoints to the popular status quo get labeled as needing to be censored and removed.
The Ideological Precedent Is Set: Those Who Wielded Censorship Get Wielded by It
A tangible stage that can be observed and labeled after the introduction of censorship is the point at which censorship is imposed without much personal say from those in authority positions. The precedent set is strong enough to outlast the tenure and opinions of those who made the controlled and careful decision to introduce censorship in the first place.
What starts as an elimination of extremist viewpoints grows into subjective judgment of wrong-think backed by ideations of a certain kind.
Censorship in a particular domain grows into an authority figure of sorts to answer to at this stage. Those imposing it simply do the legwork at this juncture, and have no bureaucratic authority to decide whether to censor or not.
This stage is cultivated through a mixture of pressure from an ideological side that supports censorship within the specified domain and a historic track record of victims censored for lesser crimes than are being committed in the current day.
Ideology is what propels censorship’s advance in this stage; members of the group which is controlled through censorship are beholden to performing the right lyrics and dance moves. Sways in ideology are tracked down, labeled, and attacked by others living in fear of being censored. Their personal fears, disdain, but lack of control of the situation at hand encourages them to express those feelings via available and encouraged outlets.
An environment of tattle-tales, reporters, and volunteer speech police grows by way of their own lack of control of the environment they find themselves in. In an effort to retain some level of control in a censored and ideologically controlled environment, such individuals grasp at any control they can attain by policing other people not following the rules they’re beholden to.
The environment of limited speech, censorship, and politicization thereby has control layers introduced to it in large part to volunteers seeking a semblance of control.
Existing Perspectives Narrow and Grow Frail to Legitimate Counterpoints
As ideology becomes the dominant driver of why people are censored on a given platform or in a given group, nuanced opinions die off. Notwithstanding the bias being ingrained and rewarded in that particular domain making it difficult to voice counterpoints, the fear of speaking out prevents people with nuanced opinions from publicizing them in the first place.
The result is discourse within the group in which censorship is rampant to develop predictable, bland, and immovable popular trajectories. Opinions start to sound the same from those allowed to express them; there are no risks taken and legitimate counterpoints (which threaten the validity of an opinion to its core) are seldom witnessed.
The popular opinions thereby grow soft and frail. Those subscribing to the current ideological trend go on unchallenged for too many iterations as those who pose legitimate threats to these opinions find themselves removed from discourse for one reason or another.
The reasons for removing those challenging the ideology wielding the tool of censorship are never publicized for what they almost always are: crimes for operating against the popular narrative, opinion, or consensus.
Groups, companies, and parties that censor rampantly almost always set rules which rely on subjectivity to cloak authentic, guttural reasons for silencing individuals. These so-called rules are open-ended in wording, and often rely on evaluation on a case-by-case basis. Such rules rely on subjectively determined traits like vulnerability, harassment, incitement, and hate whose definitions are ideologically infused.
The authentic reason (ideology) for censoring isn’t always understood by those doing the censoring either. These people fall victim to bias and fallacies just as any other human. They often wholeheartedly believe their subjective enforcement of imprecise rules to be fair, altruistic, and healing.
Alternative Options: Communities of the Censored and the Free Are Established and Grow
As the cycle of censorship eats away at a particular group’s members and nuanced opinions, those on the outside take notice. New communities, groups, organizations, and collectives inevitably pop up in part due to censorship being imposed within the contending, dominant group.
Online, new sites and services pop up in direct competition to those in which censorship has grown rampant. Political parties, protests, and groups are established in direct response to the branches of government enforcing censorship. New schools, universities, and avenues of education pop up in response to institutions in which censorship scares the student from diverging from what’s allowed ideologically.
Supporters – and members – of the group within which censorship runs rampant are eager to laugh off the new initiatives backed by those who were removed from discourse in the domain they strut in. Early supporters of alternative services, sites, or institutions are labeled undesirable and censorship’s tentacles seek to venture out and influence these new groups too.
Often, these new alternative services, sites, groups, and institutions are incomparable to those in which censorship has fostered. They struggle to compete early. However, their biggest achievement is their mere existence as an option for those evaluating which group, service, site, or institution they seek to join or pay for.
With time, these new communities which were formed in direct response to their ideologically infested, biased, censoring counterparts grow. Their growth is ensured by those in power who continue to sensor those they manage.
An important step in an alternative group’s success against its censoring counterpart is its proven ability to be financially stable and profitable.
The biggest competitive advantage these newly established collectives and institutions hold over their censoring counterparts is their dedication to free speech. With that approach, they enable ideas to foster into being better than those presented by a single, censoring ideology. These new groups slowly establish a case for passive and independent onlookers to join in on free discussion – with all its shortcomings.
Even if rifled opinions which are elementary and perhaps insulting, the mere ability to observe such opinions and refute them is attractive to prospective members.
Leaders / Stakeholders Don’t See Value in Subscribing to a Narrow, Frail Perspective
As the censored – and others willing – leave services, sites, and institutions in favor of their freedom of expression, people of prominence will catch wind. Celebrities, popular voices, and other public figures are introduced to controversy surrounding censorship if their followers and those they value feedback from publicize the issues.
Authority figures in any field are vital in the deterioration of the group / site / institution that imposes censorship based on a narrow ideological perspective. Their biggest contribution to new communities, groups, and services are the number of eyes and ears they introduce alternative options to.
Prominent figures which are censored themselves will try to retain a following and transfer it in the direction they see fit. As the body count of those silenced in any domain increases, the chances that authoritative voices and leaders in their respective fields get hit by censorship are high.
Leaders and important stakeholders introduce an element of respect and seriousness to the new alternatives to anything that’s rotten due to censorship. When authority figures are stricken by censorship’s cold disregard for nuance or objective truth, alternative platforms, services, and institutions will begin to be taken more seriously.
The Group That Embraced Censorship Becomes the Fringe
Ultimately, what leads any group, site, service, or institution that embraces censorship to become a fringe part of society is its disregard for truth. That disregard isn’t voluntary, and does not get established quickly.
Censorship’s snowball effect, as described above, strips control over healthy dialogue and truth that those who implemented censorship set out to protect. It creates a population within the group in question that cheers on for those whom they disagree with to be silenced without an end in sight. The ax of censorship has a sharp and venomous handle because it amplifies the negative effects that bias, lack of nuance, and subjectivity cloaked as objectivity have on the particular group being overseen.
These negative attributes – and the creation of echo-chambers – drive a group or service to be undesirable for newcomers and drive out original thinkers and any followers they possess.
Slowly but surely, a managed group of people who fear the grip of censorship will begin to echo one another in their outputs even if those outputs have no basis in reality.
It is not just a possibility, but seemingly a certainty, that censorship drives any group it infects to the fringes of general society because ideas deemed right within it are protected by an impenetrable wall. The path of lesser resistance consistently wins when a new challenge appears; the scales always seem to tilt in favor of silencing rather than properly addressing and disputing ideas deemed wrong by the popular vote.
The inability to explore nuanced takes on issues surrounding a popular dominant narrative ensures those popular ideas are frail to any challenge that seeps through. This inability for any member of a specified group to challenge the dominant ideas they’re exposed to creates a weak, frail, and predictable collective of unfree individuals.