This article will examine censorship and regulation of new media from three different perspectives. The first perspective will examine v-chip technology and its impact on communications and television The second perspective will examine new media and the crucial relation of autonomy. In the third perspective, we will examine the impact of twitter and ‘participation’.
New Media: Described as digital media, or social media, New Media is a group of new technologies and devices that enable multimodal communication. In other words, the author and consumer of New Media can be one and the same. Examples include Twitter, Facebook, text messaging, and Wikipedia.1
Patrick D. Maines argues that the cure “for bad or hurtful speech has been more and better speech.” In order to accomplish this, he argues that deregulation and governments need to get out of the way.2
First let’s discuss some of the attempts in place to regulate or censor new media.
- V-Chip: the TV device which its proponents claim will save children from viewing, and hence from committing violent acts.
- The Communications Decency Act: purpose is to rid the Internet of indecent material that could be accessed by youngsters.
- Federal Communications Commission Licensing solution: a means to hitch license renewals to qualified publishers meeting standards for “educational” children’s programming.
All of these attempts have a few common characteristics:
- They are offered as ways to protect children, who have become the new rationale for censorship.
- They will not, and indeed cannot, achieve their own objectives.
- They are backward-looking technologically, and as a matter of policy.
- They are almost certainly unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
Why won’t they work?
- V-Chip: the type of parents who will go through the effort to setup and monitor children viewing (to make the V-Chip effective) can likely do the same without the V-Chip. Parents who won’t monitor, also, likely won’t setup the V-Chip to begin with.
- The Communications Decency Act: the internet is a not a broadcast channel. It is a two-way communication channel with many communicating to many. With 9.4million host computers, and millions more accessing the internet daily, this channel
- Federal Communications Commission Licensing solution: given the explosive growth of new media and entertainment, it is likely that those with appropriate licenses and regulations will produce programs that nobody watched.
As regulation and censorship is difficult with new media, we will next examine new media from the perspective of autonomy.
Autonomy: independence or freedom, as of the will or one’s actions: the autonomy of the individual. 3
In his paper, Dean Colby demonstrates three conceptions of autonomy, and their impact on democracy.4
- The first conception is the need for access to communication that is domination-free. To create meaning and extract value, a person requires access to communication and information exchange. To the extent the lack of new media access obstructs meaning-making, this lack of access is therefore damaging, in some way, to
autonomy and democratic citizenship.
- The second conception is that to promote autonomy and democracy, information exchange cannot be centralized or controlled by one voice.
- The third conception is that mediation of communication reduces opportunities, reduces freedoms, and has led to the progressive eroding of the public sphere.
Understanding how autonomy, regulation and democracy are inter-related leads us to examine the third perspective. Many new technologies are being created to help the communication of many, to many. Twitter is one of these technologies that has done well. We will now examine Twitter and the “Participative Web”.5
Twitter as a technological innovation has enabled many forms of communication. Tamara Shepherd examines the impact of Twitter in the OECD’s “Participative Web”.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released a report in 2007 titled, Participative Web and UserCreated Content: Web 2.0, Wikis and Social Networking. The paper frames user-generated content as key to the development of public discourse in terms to their contribution of market-based value. However the paper misses the concerns of emerging technologies and corporate influences on those technologies.
When companies like Twitter and Facebook seek to generate revenue, it is often at the expense of the users, their generated content, or the marketing potential and demographics. Internet policy often ignore the ethical issues of regulating corporate jurisdiction over public discourse. She argues that the OECD report is already dated, and many arguments on innovation, technology and policy still haven’t been resolved.
In order for governments to keep up with technology, protect its citizens and protect the democracy of internet participants, they will need to develop a means to encourage media-literate citizens to autonomously educate, publish and “drown-out” the harmful voices on the internet.
1 See Kumar, Andrew – New Media Relevance
2 See Maines, Patrick D. – The new censorship.
3 Autonomy – Definition.
4 See Colby, Dean – Toward a New Media Autonomy.
5 See Shepherd, Tamara – Twittering in the OECD’s “Participative Web”: Microblogging and New Media Policy.