Is Censorship Always Bad?

Jun 16, 19

Freedom of speech or freedom of self-expression has always been of the most argued concepts respecting its scope, its limit as well as its possible effects on an individual or a society. We could say that it has always been a popular concept to debate mostly by the philosophers under the topic of liberty.

However, we see that a lot of people have recently been referencing to "freedom of speech" in order to defend their arguments mainly in social media platforms, which they also criticize blindfold their actions that silence people's self-expression. These critics led many other platforms - like Honest Cash - to emerge that supports freedom of speech and uncensorable content.

In this article, my intention is not to argue the limiting policies of such platforms. Rather, I would like to underline the concept of "freedom of speech" and its connection to other concepts such as "freedom of thought" and "freedom of action". 

Freedom of speech, of thought and of action

A basic definition that you can find on the internet for the freedom of speech is:

Freedom of speech is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or a community to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or legal sanction.

One of the most famous advocates of free speech and freedom of thought is English philosopher John Stuart Mill, who argues the concepts in his book, On Liberty. 

On the one hand, by seeing the two concepts inseparable, Mill argues that the freedom of thought and speech - expression - will contribute to "the permanent interests of man as a progressive being" and underlines the free speech as “one of the securities against a corrupt or tyrannical government”. 

On the other hand, by identifying his Harm Principle, Mill argues that "state may only interfere with people holding and expressing their views if those views cause harm to others".

That means when there is a harmful "act" as a consequence of a free speech or a thought, an interference can/should be carried out. 

But what exactly is "harm" for Mill? 

In the book of On Liberty, Mill gives a clear example that demonstrates us what he understands from "harm". He states that it is acceptable "to condemn someone in print, but not acceptable to condemn them before a mob outside their home". 

If we take a look into Mill's example, we can deduct two important points.

- Mill clearly separates the "free speech and thought" from "freedom of action". - For Mill, an interference or punishment should be carried out once there is a harmful act, which seems as physical harm.

The two points lead us to think the situations when (only!) speech causes psychological harm to another party - like in hate speech.

Hate Speech…

A basic definition that you can find on the internet for the hate speech is:

Hate speech is speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as race, religion, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

On the one hand, if we separate the speech and the act just like Mill, we would say that hate speech might not be harmful and therefore can be accepted without any interference. 

On the other hand, if we think the speech and act inseparable, and that harmful act is not only a physical one, then the expression of hate speech should have a consequence, an interference since it stigmatizes another party and causes a different type of harms. 

So, the two arguments fully support free speech and that no matter the content of the speech is, or whether there are people disagree with it, the person has the freedom to express his/her opinion. But the difference between the two arguments is that, while the first one does not bear any consequences, the second one does (in the sample of hate speech), which can be a form of interference. It is better to remember that freedom of speech does not mean freedom of consequences.

To conclude, these two different arguments - there can be more surely - are the reasons why most people think differently about the concepts and why some platforms have "consequence" policy - censoring "some" contents -, while others support "no consequence" policy - an uncensorable one -, like Honest Cash. 

To be honest, I am not sure how "good" is to have a content that never brings a consequence (does not have to be censorship). To me, the scope of all these concepts mostly seems vague, broad and disputable. Therefore, I often try to avoid referencing to them as justification for my arguments. 

I wonder about your opinions, feel free to disagree with me :)

Disclaimer: Even though I am part of Honest Cash team, the opinions expressed are my own.

World citizen, nature addict, interested in politics and advocate for the underdog | Honest Cash | Opinions are my own



Comments (4)
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20 Jan 19 07:40

It's wonderful that your story about censorship cited J.S. Mill, I really love him. But your story didn't share his reason for strongly opposing censorship…  

The public collectively is abundantly ready to impose, not only its generally narrow views of its interests, but its abstract opinions, and even its tastes, as laws binding upon individuals. And the present civilization tends so strongly to make the power of persons acting in masses the only substantial power in society, that there never was more necessity for surrounding individual independence of thought, speech, and conduct, with the most powerful defences, in order to maintain that originality of mind and individuality of character, which are the only source of any real progress, and of most of the qualities which make the human race much superior to any herd of animals. — J.S. Mill, Principles of Political Economy with some of their Applications to Social Philosophy

What has made the European family of nations an improving, instead of a stationary portion of mankind? Not any superior excellence in them, which, when it exists, exists as the effect, not as the cause; but their remarkable diversity of character and culture. Individuals, classes, nations, have been extremely unlike one another: they have struck out a great variety of paths, each leading to something valuable; and although at every period those who travelled in different paths have been intolerant of one another, and each would have thought it an excellent thing if all the rest could have been compelled to travel his road, their attempts to thwart each other’s development have rarely had any permanent success, and each has in time endured to receive the good which the others have offered. Europe is, in my judgment, wholly indebted to this plurality of paths for its progressive and many-sided development. But it already begins to possess this benefit in a considerably less degree. It is decidedly advancing towards the Chinese ideal of making all people alike. — J.S. Mill, On Liberty

In the first place, then, I would suggest that they might possibly learn something from them. It will not be denied by anybody, that originality is a valuable element in human affairs. There is always need of persons not only to discover new truths, and point out when what were once truths are true no longer, but also to commence new practices, and set the example of more enlightened conduct, and better taste and sense in human life. This cannot well be gainsaid by anybody who does not believe that the world has already attained perfection in all its ways and practices. It is true that this benefit is not capable of being rendered by everybody alike: there are but few persons, in comparison with the whole of mankind, whose experiments, if adopted by others, would be likely to be any improvement on established practice. But these few are the salt of the earth; without them, human life would become a stagnant pool. Not only is it they who introduce good things which did not before exist; it is they who keep the life in those which already existed. — J.S. Mill, On Liberty

I insist thus emphatically on the importance of genius, and the necessity of allowing it to unfold itself freely both in thought and in practice, being well aware that no one will deny the position in theory, but knowing also that almost every one, in reality, is totally indifferent to it. People think genius a fine thing if it enables a man to write an exciting poem, or paint a picture. But in its true sense, that of originality in thought and action, though no one says that it is not a thing to be admired, nearly all, at heart, think that they can do very well without it. Unhappily this is too natural to be wondered at. Originality is the one thing which unoriginal minds cannot feel the use of. They cannot see what it is to do for them: how should they? If they could see what it would do for them, it would not be originality. The first service which originality has to render them, is that of opening their eyes: which being once fully done, they would have a chance of being themselves original. Meanwhile, recollecting that nothing was ever yet done which some one was not the first to do, and that all good things which exist are the fruits of originality, let them be modest enough to believe that there is something still left for it to accomplish, and assure themselves that they are more in need of originality, the less they are conscious of the want. - J.S. Mill, On Liberty

As it is useful that while mankind are imperfect there should be different opinions, so is it that there should be different experiments of living; that free scope should be given to varieties of character, short of injury to others; and that the worth of different modes of life should be proved practically, when any one thinks fit to try them. It is desirable, in short, that in things which do not primarily concern others, individuality should assert itself. Where, not the person’s own character, but the traditions of customs of other people are the rule of conduct, there is wanting one of the principal ingredients of human happiness, and quite the chief ingredient of individual and social progress. — J.S. Mill, On Liberty

The progressive principle, however, in either shape, whether as the love of liberty or of improvement, is antagonistic to the sway of Custom, involving at least emancipation from that yoke; and the contest between the two constitutes the chief interest of the history of mankind. The greater part of the world has, properly speaking, no history, because the despotism of Custom is complete. This is the case over the whole East. Custom is there, in all things, the final appeal; justice and right mean conformity to custom; the argument of custom no one, unless some tyrant intoxicated with power, thinks of resisting. And we see the result. Those nations must once have had originality; they did not start out of the ground populous, lettered, and versed in many of the arts of life; they made themselves all this, and were then the greatest and most powerful nations of the world. What are they now? The subjects or dependents of tribes whose forefathers wandered in the forests when theirs had magnificent palaces and gorgeous temples, but over whom custom exercised only a divided rule with liberty and progress. A people, it appears, may be progressive for a certain length of time, and then stop: when does it stop? When it ceases to possess individuality. — J.S. Mill, On Liberty

Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest. — J.S. Mill, On Liberty

A government cannot have too much of the kind of activity which does not impede, but aids and stimulates, individual exertion and development. The mischief begins when, instead of calling forth the activity and powers of individuals and bodies, it substitutes its own activity for theirs; when, instead of informing, advising, and, upon occasion, denouncing, it makes them work in fetters, or bids them stand aside and does their work instead of them. The worth of a State, in the long run, is the worth of the individuals composing it; and a State which postpones the interests of their mental expansion and elevation, to a little more of administrative skill, or that semblance of it which practice gives, in the details of business; a State which dwarfs its men, in order that they may be more docile instruments in its hands even for beneficial purposes — will find that with small men no great thing can really be accomplished; and that the perfection of machinery to which it has sacrificed everything, will in the end avail it nothing, for want of the vital power which, in order that the machine might work more smoothly, it has preferred to banish. — J.S. Mill, On Liberty

Yet nothing is more certain than that improvement in human affairs is wholly the work of the uncontented characters; and, moreover, that it is much easier for an active mind to acquire the virtues of patience, than for a passive one to assume those of energy. — J.S. Mill, Considerations on Representative Government

The management of purely local business by the localities, and of the great enterprises of industry by the union of those who voluntarily supply the pecuniary means, is further recommended by all the advantages which have been set forth in this Essay as belonging to individuality of development, and diversity of modes of action. Government operations tend to be everywhere alike. With individuals and voluntary associations, on the contrary, there are varied experiments, and endless diversity of experience. What the State can usefully do, is to make itself a central depository, and active circulator and diffuser, of the experience resulting from many trials. Its business is to enable each experimentalist to benefit by the experiments of others; instead of tolerating no experiments but its own. — J.S. Mill, On Liberty

Mill clearly saw the correlation between difference and progress, which is why he opposed censorship so strongly.  

In terms of evolution, asexual reproduction creates copies, but the copies aren't always perfect, thanks to mutations/mistakes.  Add up enough of these small differences and you get sexual reproduction, which results in much more difference in much less time.  Voila!  Here we are!  And here's Honest Cash (HC).

What makes HC so different is that we can use our money to rank the content.  In theory this means that, compared to the alternatives (ranking by voting or ranking by committee), the rankings here will far more accurately reflect our difference, which means far more progress.  

In order to correctly value freedom of speech/expression, it is necessary to appreciate its relationship to progress.  Then it will be readily apparent why my #1 priority for HC is to give us the freedom to spend money on our own posts.

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9 Jan 19 08:12

Hate Speech is not Harm - it is actually a blunder.

Hate Speech ignites the rage of those who do not control their own self.

The consequences of such silliness eventually consume all who participate.

[Participation requires two parties - one to incite and one to react.]

The problem is not some idiot who who speaks hatefully,

 but rather the fact we are adrift in oceans of mindless beasts

 inoculated by "Public Education" to react violently to what others say.

The ancient exercise about "sticks and stones…"

to learn to recognize that _what others say reveals only their own faults

_was abandoned in favour of criminalizing what can be discussed.  

Harm requires several points:

Someone who physically performs an act.

The Act which physically impacts a 'victim'.

A 'victim' who did not accept the effects of the Act.

A lack of acceptance by the 'victim'.

Absent any of those four points, an event is not HARM:

Harm does not just occur, it must be performed by someone.

Harm is not a misunderstanding - it must be a physical Act.

Harm is not a victimless Act. "Society" is an illusion, not a victim.

Harm is not what anyone accepts, but forgiveness may negotiate.

http://drought.it

Examples:

Earthquakes and droughts occur, but murderers and robbers Harm.

Insults are flawed vocabulary, physical assault is real Harm.

Imaginary friends cannot be Harmed, but possessions can be.

Agreement prevents Harm. Absence of agreement defines Harm.

=======================================================

"I wonder about your opinions, feel free to disagree with me :)"

=======================================================

The gist of the dilemma is whether a platform such as Honest.cash

or redd!t or whatever should censor.

You have my most sincere condolences on this predicament.

Sure - why not, go ahead and censor the fsck out of everything.

Or not - it is ultimately a choice and the right of ownership.

It is not the privilege of customers to complain instore about the fare,

 but it is their choice to shop elsewhere, or not.

That choice determines who the customers will be,

 and this is something no one can take away from venue providers.

The choice to censor or not has consequences to consider.

Censorship can damage much more than it heals.

⊕The first victim of censorship is credibility.


My motto is never trust a censor past the first paragraph.

A censor regards their own POV as being somehow 'better' than others.

The problem is that their decisions are framed not just by what they know but more by what they do not know.

Such ignorance can omit sciences learned in aeons by entire continents.

To have the credibility of a deity you must not only know +and+ comprehend everything.

If there exists anything you do not know or do not comprehend then you are not a god (or a goddess).

Best pack a good parachute, the fall from being a deity is awesome.

⊕The second victim of censorship is creativity.

As I write this authorities are jailing people for what they wrote privately, by email.

People I possibly met in the grocery store, or online. or not.

The fear of the censor is the fear of being thrown in a jail for your choice of a verb or a preposition or simply the grammar style of a hurried moment on an Android text message being monitored by some guy wearing a uniform and an attitude to censor in favor of his invisible buddy.

Creativity dies under the steely gaze of someone who may be convinced to report you to thugs in uniform.

What censors end up with is a cesspool of flotsam all gurgling the same platitudes you could find on Steemit.

Creative ? maybe, if you say so, perhaps.

⊕The third victim of censorship is civility.

Once a medium becomes recognized as supporting censorship a second layer of censorious users arise in a sort of competition.

We saw this on Steemit,

and in other places not even worthy of discussion [QUORA!].

One vile feature of Steemit as a nod to censorship was the ability to 'FLAG'.

To simply erase someone's effort for no apparent reason whatsoever.

http://whatsoever.No No recourse, no public discussion - just gone, by a self-appointed censor.

These creatures are powered by motives no one can even guess at,

 but in many instances seem to be little more than emotional venting. 

There was for a while a push for something like this on some other venues which, fortunately, was resisted.

Those venues hum along with an exacerbating amount of edgy individualism, but no fear and no villainy afoot.

There trolls are all cajoled and admired for publicly humiliating themselves on a daily basis, and no one gets jailed for posting something unpleasant.

This works because there is no mechanism for downvoting or flagging.

The only choice is upvoting or simply ignoring content.

Eventually the canny reader recognizes we should always ignore everything except that which has the merit to respond to,

which is why I responded to your challenge - it had the merit to be answered.

=======================================================

I wish you all the best but remind you that there exist a lot of good people out there with interesting ideas about how to solve problems like censorship.

notabug.io has an interesting sidebar which suggests one possibility:

The ability to choose a guide through an uncensored landscape.

The freedom to see it all or to choose some POV which simply does not reveal the bits you would rather not view.

But if Honest.Cash chooses censorship,

like Youtube/Facebook/Reddit and their ilk,

good luck with that.

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6 Jan 19 11:42

I cross-posted your article in the /r/Libertarian subreddit and it has generated some discussion. Check it out here:

https://www.reddit.com/r/Libertarian/comments/acy6o7/iscensorshipreallybadbycalisihonest_cash/

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6 Jan 19 02:00

I often wonder about the opposing concepts your article introduces. For me, it boils down to the question: Can information be dangerous?

I have to side with Mill, and say that 'thought' or 'speech' is not an action, and therefore the answer is: No. Information can not be dangerous on its own.

Furthermore, I think that entertaining the idea that information could be dangerous, or its corollary, that thought is an action worthy of consequences, is a slippery slope. Where do you draw the line? You can't. Any threshold of what speech is acceptable and what is punishable will be an arbitrary and capricious limit.

Creating a society that respects free speech is analogous to creating a tolerant society. The one thing that a tolerant society can not tolerate, is intolerance. Intolerance is like poisoning a well, it only takes a few drops to ruin all the water. Limiting free speech is a similar poison. 

Free speech is an ideal, and as an ideal, it must be all or nothing. There is no room for censorship of any kind, in a society that seeks to be free and open. But, there is all the room in the world for good manners.

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6 Jan 19 05:44

Your title was exactly a question that I asked myself. And how can we decide that information is dangerous? According to what it is dangerous? What are the limits of "dangerous"?

Then I find out how Mill argued the question below.

**Should we not censor those opinions that … are dangerous to society?

**

Mill argues that  "the belief that an opinion is dangerous can be disputed – as above, we cannot be certain that the view is, in fact, dangerous to society unless we allow free debate on the matter. But for this, we must allow the ‘dangerous’ view to be discussed, and cannot censor it".

I totally agree with him until there is an "act" - harmful act - based upon this expression and dispute. I believe speech and action are inseparable in our today's world - in some cases like "hate speech". For me, to separate them is kind of "utopic" view since today, many expression - provokes an act on another party and therefore, such an expression that causes the "harmful act" including psychological harm should bear a consequence, which does not need to be in a way of censorship.

So, the information alone is not dangerous, I agree. And I am 100% for any kind of free speech or expression. But, when there is an "act" added, then I do not think that it is pure information anymore. Here I am not arguing whether the speaker expressed the information intentionally or not since it is totally another broad topic.

In short, what happens each day in our world just makes me think more that we are responsible for what we express freely (which we should surely) and responsibility brings consequence - not arguing the type.

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