Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Shrinking Public Sphere and the Censoring of Free Speech- The Good Reverend’s Fight

I am coming out of my unintentional Blog Sabbatical, long story for another day, to protest the censoring of free speech by both Yahoo and YouTube. I have been following the Rev. Billy Bob’s ongoing struggle with Yahoo and felt confident that he was fighting the good fight. Once I read tonight on his blog about how all of his videos were removed from YouTube--I was disgusted, saddened and pissed off. In this new culture of fear, and make no mistake we have been living in a culture of fear since the tragic events of 9/11 and the continuing efforts of the current administration and others to censor and/or direct speech, entities in America have become hypercritics. We yell and scream when Yahoo or Google agrees with countries like China to censor search results but, in the same breath, there is an endorsement of censoring of free speech in the United States. I remember telling a story a year ago on this very blog about how I was “shushed” by friends when I engaged in critical discussion--regarding my disagreement with President Bush and his administration’s invading Iraq when they should have finished the job finding Osama bin Laden. I was “shushed” by my friends not because what I said they disagreed with, or because what I say was uninformed, but because it was now, they felt, dangerous to dissent in public, especially against President Bush and his War on Terror. There has been a real effort to control free speech in this country for the last several years. This has been seen in many arenas, not just the effort to silent or discredit dissenters, but in corporations working to control what information we will get to have access to on the internet, including what type of videos are considered appropriate and which videos aren’t. I have viewed Rev. Billy Bob’s videos and they are not “inappropriate in their nature.” As for Yahoo, it is obvious that the powers that be only read the titles of his video entries, not the art itself. Yet the censorship doesn’t stop with Rev. Bob’s work as cable companies and other internet entities want to censor (and yes I use that word here) what contact we can or cannot have access to on web searches depending on what companies advertise with which companies. This too is a form of censoring although others would say it is only a form of favoring some content over other content. Shouldn’t I determine what content I wish to favor and what content I wish to ignore? The questions are; should Rev. Billy Bob continue to fight here? Is he making a mountain out of a mole hill? Should the powers that be, whether they are the supreme court, yahoo or YouTube, be able to state, and with a straight face, that they can’t define smut or inappropriate nature, but they “know it when they see it” and, therefore, it shall be stricken from the record of the public sphere where such things should be debated upon? Yes, not only should Rev. Billy Bob continue his fight, but we all must fight along side with him. The public sphere has dwindled since corporations have successfully been able, legally, to call what was once a public space, a private space of business and therefore legislate what speech may or may not occur in that space. Shopping malls, once the public market, has been taken over and made a corporation’s private paradise where advertising and paid programming are the only voice allowed to ring loud and clear. The same has happened to other public spaces including the streets and sidewalks, parks and other recreation areas once deemed public. Yet, many of us had hoped that with the internet came a new public space, ripe for free speech, critical discussions and, yes, irrelevant content. But the internet too is fast becoming a place of the private where “private” corporations can deem what is appropriate speech and what is inappropriate. Where the government can censor, eavesdrop and accuse those who have content deemed inappropriate and alarming. With the dwindling public sphere, we must fight to have this revolutionary commons, public, space maintained from those who would legislate opinion, dissent and even silly or irrelevant content. Don’t dismiss this as simply one small incident which matters little in the grand scheme of things. View this, dear reader, as a sign of things to come if we allow it. Loss of small freedoms become larger freedoms down the world. Besides, do we really want Yahoo!, YouTube or Wal-Mart telling us what we can say or think? Come on, do ya really? Finally, we should remember while many of use are frustrated and outraged at Islamic militants who now control the majority of Somali, and are working to censor content in that community (music, radio and literature and social relations), that this action is really of little difference that the actions of Yahoo! and YouTube. (Please note that the URL address for the last story came from Yahoo!—kinda hypercritical and ironic don’t ya think?) Yes the reasons behind the censoring are different and the degree of censoring is different, but the basic intent is the same: to control what is said, what is heard and what influences. But what about our children??!!! You say. What about them? May I suggest talking with them more, engaging with them more and viewing the internet with them more? Corporations should not be responsible to deeming what is appropriate content in order to protect children—that is the parent’s job, not Wal-mart’s Job. Maybe they should put the porn on the top shelf away from curious eyes, but not to dictate whether porn should exist or whether dissent debate should exists. Reverend I salute you—Keep up the Good fight. R

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