Even in its most benign form, the practice of censorship is an undeniable violation of a human being’s inherent right to express his or herself, and any policy which allows for censorship is detrimental to the foundation of a progressive society. Generally, censorship has been utilized by organizations (be they political, religious, commercial, or social in origin) as a way to suppress unpopular ideas, opinions, or viewpoints, particularly if they suggest a dissenting perspective. While many people may associate censorship with foreign dictatorships or the corporate media, the issue is far more expansive and pervasive. Indeed, censorship has prevented the exchange of information for many, many centuries and its history is arguably as old as our own.
At its core, censorship is a way to restrict people from self-expression and limit their exposure to ideas. By controlling the public’s awareness of and access to certain information outlets that may be deemed controversial or subversive, authoritarian powers are able to place a stranglehold on the collective perception of a community. Often the application of censorship is accompanied by the use of propaganda, disinformation, or materials with which opinions can be swayed in favor of one party or against another. While these techniques are nothing new, the methods of enforcing them have greatly evolved over the centuries as technological advancement has occurred.
In today’s world, censorship is so common (as is the use of propaganda and disinformation) that the average citizen of most highly populated countries is likely to be affected by it in some manner on an almost daily basis. As such, paranoia regarding the media has also become common. While questioning the validity and integrity of information and its source is necessary in the world’s modern sociopolitical arena, mistaking editorialization with censorship has become an increasingly frequent problem that tends to exacerbate hostilities between people of opposing viewpoints. To prevent unnecessary debate and conflict, it is then necessary to create crystalline definitions that lay down the extent to which free speech can be limited, altered, or discouraged altogether. Below are definitions of censorship, editorialization, propaganda, and disinformation taken from the dictionary.
cen•sor•ship (sen´sər ship) n.
1. the act of censoring
2. the work of or position of a censor
3. the examination and prohibition of materials deemed to be objectionable
ed•i•to•ri•al•ize (ed´ə tô ré əl ĭzā´shən) n.
1. to express editorial opinions on a given topic
2. to place editorial information into a written article
3. to present what is considered by an editor to be relevant content while omitting any content considered irrelevant or inappropriate
prop•a•gan•da (präp é gan´da) n.
1. any system of which is used to promote or disseminate certain ideas, doctrines, practices, or people
2. any material used for the sole purpose of proselytizing an individual and/or group of individuals in a concerted effort of converting them to a specific viewpoint or to adopt a particular set of beliefs
dis•in•for•ma•tion (dis in´fər mā´shən) n.
erroneous or inaccurate information intentionally and often covertly spread in an attempt to divert or distract people from the truth
What’s interesting about these definitions is how purposefully vague they are. It’s clear that on a person-to-person basis, the way that censorship, editorialization, propaganda, and disinformation are perceived will vary from one person to the next, thus causing these words to be defined as much by our own perspectives as by their very nature. Failing to establish a definitive, universal set of guidelines as to what constitutes these acts may at first appear unhelpful, but in their subtle ambiguity we can also find the very freedom that these acts negate. To truly understand these concepts, one must look not to their definitions (as these metamorphose and evolve over time), but rather seek out their meanings through the history of their existence. In the following essay, I shall attempt to illuminate said history and provide readers with the information needed to form their own philosophical stance on the matter.