Posted by: patenttranslator | December 16, 2012

How Much Self-Censorship Should We Use on Our Blogs and in Comments on Social Media?

I keep coming across articles in newspapers and posts on blogs about how important it is to pay attention to the things that we say online because once you post something online, it will stay there …… forever. If you are looking for a job, your application may be thrown out if your potential employer sees a flippant comment you made years ago on a blog or on Facebook.

Try to run a search for your name and see what comes up. Because search engines often pick up on the juicier tidbits first, things that you might have said a long time ago because you thought that they were really funny, or because something set you off, are likely to be displayed first. For example, a few years ago I commented on a blog in a discussion about to what extent the “f” word is allowed or prohibited to be used in the media in United States. Sure enough, this was the first thing that came up when I ran a search for my name.

Not exactly the first thing I that would want a potential client to see about me when running a search on Google, I thought. And then I thought, oh, what the hell! It is one thing to try not to offend people, at least not a lot of them and all of the time, by the silly things that one might say on a blog or in comments online. That is certainly a worthwhile undertaking, and I could probably use a little more self-control in this respect.

But their is a difference between self-control and self-censorship. To consciously engage in self-censorship in everything that I say online, and I have been saying a lot of things online for years now, some of them somewhat controversial, just because some of these things could potentially offend some possible, phantom customer who might not order a translation from me in the future because of something I said, would be tantamount to renounce my right to express myself, to reject, consciously and of my own free will, the concept of freedom of speech.

Once I had a couple of guys in blue overalls, one in his twenties and one in his fifties, come to my house to fix my bathtub and give me an estimate for a new water heating tank. They reeked of marihuana really bad and so did their truck. I also remember that the way they talked sounded kind of wacky to me.

They did a good job, but I still threw out their business card. I don’t think that you should be reeking of weed when you come to another person’s house to fix something. I guess that is where I draw the line. If you don’t realize something as basic as that, there is something wrong with you.

But I would invite back to my house for example a plumber who turns out when I Google him to be an anarchist, or an unabashed pinko leftie, or even farther to the right than my Republican neighbors, provided that he is not too expensive and that he did a really good job fixing my sink last time when I needed him.

I do believe in freedom of speech, including my speech and that of other people whose beliefs may be quite different from mine. Which is why I don’t think that people should self-censor their thoughts if they share them with other people online.

Given how heavily modern society is censored already not to offend anybody who might be potentially offended, mostly for commercial, political and ideological reasons, such as advertisers on TV and in newspapers or various minorities, if we all started self-censoring our thoughts because we are sharing them online and somebody might be offended or less inclined to give as a job one day, the exchange of opinions online would soon become about as lively and interesting as politically correct discussions of the incredible excitement generated by the New Dear Leader or whatever the correct name is that North Koreans must use these days to celebrate the genius of that young, chubby, dumb looking guy who is running that country into the ground right now.

If there is a potential phantom customer out there who would be reluctant to send me a translation because he disagrees with something that I said online, which is quite possible, I am probably better off not working for him anyway.

Provided, that most people still believe in the concept of freedom of speech, at least in theory, I should be OK.

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Responses

  1. Censorship is about power and money. Self-censorship is about conformity and ultimately about power and money as well.

    I remember how you commented on Wendell Rickett’s “f” words in response upon a cattle call made by an agency. It is only consequential that you write in this post: “If there is a potential phantom customer out there who would be reluctant to send me a translation because he disagrees with something that I said online, which is quite possible, I am probably better off not working for him anyway.”

    You see, Steve, we need honest opinions to justify our liberty, the ground of what we believe in, even if we have to tolerate error in order to serve truth.

    When I was freshman, I chanced upon an essay, The Indispensable Opposition, written by Walter Lippmann at New York Times, 1939. It impressed me so much, that I refer to it whenever there is an issue of freedom of speech. Here’s a link to the essay.

    http://grossmont.gcccd.cc.ca.us/bertdill/docs/indispensableopposition.pdf

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  2. There is no real opposition in my country, only fake opposition. The media pretends that there are only two parties here, whose politicians, paid off by the same people, pretend that there are huge differences between the Ds and the Rs, while other parties are simply prevented from participating in the political process.

    There is no real difference between the Ds and the Rs as they work for the same bagman. The result is that typically only 50% of voters can be persuaded to even bother with voting. When about 60% participate, it is celebrated as a great success. And when you think about it, it is really a great success of the propaganda machine. In fact, it took me 20 years to figure out how things really work, and I am not particularly stupid.

    If Lippmann were alive, he would be writing about it, but he would now be published only on blogs.

    If we self-censor our thoughts when we express them on the Internet, which is the only avenue of democratic participation left to us in the modern world, civilization as we used to know it will be finished.

    “It is all very well to say with Voltaire, “I wholly disapprove of what you say, but
    will defend to the death your right to say it,” but as a matter of fact most men will not defend to the death the rights of other men: if they disapprove sufficiently what other men say, they will somehow suppress those men if they can.”

    “The national unity of a free people depends upon a sufficiently even balance of
    political power to make it impracticable for the administration to be arbitrary and for the opposition to be revolutionary and irreconcilable. Where that balance no longer exists, democracy perishes. For unless all the citizens of a state are forced by circumstances to compromise, unless they feel that they can affect policy but that no one can wholly dominate it, unless by habit and necessity they have to give and take, freedom cannot be maintained.”
    1939
    http://grossmont.gcccd.cc.ca.us/bertdill/docs/IndispensableOpposition.pdf

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  3. […] I keep coming across articles in newspapers and posts on blogs about how important it is to pay attention to the things that we say online because once you post something online, it will stay there…  […]

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  4. Both you and me are somehow pessimistic in the way it runs with the political development in the so-called democracy. I have to agree with the quote you picked from Lippmann’s essay.

    “For unless all the citizens of a state are forced by circumstances to compromise, unless they feel that they can affect policy but that no one can wholly dominate it, unless by habit and necessity they have to give and take, freedom cannot be maintained.”

    And I agree, of course, with your “If we self-censor our thoughts when we express them on the Internet, which is the only avenue of democratic participation left to us in the modern world, civilization as we used to know it will be finished.”

    Furthermore, I’d say that the civilization we used to know it is about to finish as we notice less and less people express their honest opinions freely, not just because they might be censored by the power holders, but also by their own self-censorship. “Politically correct” is almost always the reason why that they exercise “heavy” self-censorship. If they don’t, they’ll be censored by the power holders, even on the Internet.

    Friedrich Dürrenmatt used to say during the era of Soviets that, while the Russians be kept dumb by a party, the Americans be kept bumb by the TV. There are now a lot of methods to manipulate people on the Internet. Evgeny Morozov has been studying how the Internet has changed the conduct of global affairs only to find out that it hasn’t in all the ways we think. One of the examples of the methods that dictatorships manipulate on the Internet is shown in the following link.

    http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/politics/2012/10/china%E2%80%99s-paid-trolls-meet-50-cent-party

    I wouldn’t judge a person based on whatever she/he had said on the Internet. I would look for the consistency of what is left online of all what the person ever said. If there isn’t a consistency, her/his posts must have been manipulated (deleted, hidden or modified by someone else) to her/his disadvantage.

    In short, if we don’t trust the operator of a forum/blog, we’d better not post any comments there. If we did, don’t worry about potential phantom customers. There won’t be any with whom we could work sensibly, anyway.

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