Why internet censorship is wrong

February 21, 2010

The internet protest group Anonymous launched a cyber-attack to protest the Australian government's proposed "clean-feed" internet filter on February 10. A number of government websites temporarily became host to pornographic images.

The government was unable to prevent access to the websites for the Parliament and the Department of Broadband, Communication and Digital Economy.

In a statement Anonymous said they took the action because "no government should have the right to refuse its citizens access to information solely because they perceive it to be 'unwanted'". One of the aspects of the proposed internet filter is to ban pornography containing small-breasted women and female ejaculation.

Unfortunately, Anonymous's demand that the government not "mess with our porn" suggests they are blind to the sexism that underpins the porn industry — it turns women into objects of male pleasure that must live up to a mass-marketed beauty ideal to be considered attractive.

But the Rudd government's internet censorship agenda is hardly designed to counter sexism either. And no filter software can be trusted to distinguish between pornography and health advice.

The Anomymous cyber-protest coincided with news that Google Australia would not comply with the Australian government's attempts to censor Youtube videos that fit within the "refused classification" (RC) category.

The Rudd government's internet filter would also block internet users from viewing videos depicting or discussing graffiti, drug use and euthanasia.

Google Australia's Iarla Flynn told the February 11 Sydney Morning Herald that "exposing these topics to public debate is vital for democracy".

The government's attempt to control what adults can view on the internet puts freedom of expression in a precarious position.

The filter would set a precedent that the government can determine what is and isn't "wanted" on the internet. It could easily become a tool for the government to clamp down on political dissent.

Nor can the capitalist state be trusted to make decisions about censorship of racism, sexism or homophobia for us. It is one the worst perpetrators of discrimination. Censorship can allow political parties who enact discriminatory policies to pretend they are doing something about the problem.

The most effective way to counter sexist, racist and exploitative material is not to ban them, but to build mass campaigns that seek to transform the system that breeds discrimination and exploitation at every turn.

The Rudd government's plan to censor the internet is not only unjust, but by restricting freedom of expression it would make it harder to build political movements for social change.

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