Censorship on the Web
by Royce Carlson
U.S. government has not yet stepped in to control content on the
Internet but censorship is still rearing its ugly head. The corporate
control of access to information is already beginning to restrict what
we will see on the World Wide Web. The government doesnít have to do
The major search engines and directories are run by private companies
and ones beholden only to stockholders. These corporations can legally
control the content of their sites. They can decide what sites they will
link to. It is their right by law in the U.S. This poses a problem
regarding access to information on the Internet.
Although censorship is not legislated by government, many large
portals have anti-pornography rules and will not list sites that
obviously promote illegal activities. Pornography is popular enough that
people who want it will easily be able to find it. (It finds them a lot
of the time!) Illegal activities are another matter.
Here at Zenzibar Alternative Culture we recently received a letter
from one of the large search engines claiming they will "no longer
link to sites that promote the recreational ingestion of mind-altering
substances." They are doing this by not recognizing drug keywords.
Since keywords are the words you type into the search box, this means
that, through this site, you will not be able to access any
information about mescaline or magic mushrooms, for example.
This means that they are restricting access to sites about the
psycho-active substances that shamans use legally in their countries.
They are restricting access to sites that are organizing legal political
action to change drug laws and they are restricting access to historical
information about other cultures where these substances are legal. The
sites that promote drug-use, illegal acts, pornography, etc. are still
out there on the web. They are not restricted from posting their sites
on the Web. Itís just that, without links to them, almost no one will
This is de facto cultural and political censorship. Where will it go
from here? Will the search engines band together to toe some
conservative political line in allowing us access to information? I hope
not. The actions of a bunch of individual major portal sites under
pressure from governments and/or right wing religious groups to not link
to sites that hold opposing viewpoints results in broad-based censorship
which undermines our freedoms.
Itís a very tricky issue, however. For example, Zenzibar itself has
a policy regarding the listing of pornography. It is our legal right. We
also have the right to not list mainstream stuff. We, as a niche portal,
serve a narrow market, the community of people interested in
alternatives to western mainstream culture. It would be unrealistic to
make it illegal to focus on a narrow market due to potential laws that
restrict restrictions. Every portal canít be forced to be everything
Better than pressuring government to make laws that prohibit private
censorship, I believe the better action is to directly act against
individual corporations that are heading down the censorship road by
creating negative publicity for them. If their revenues drop, they will
change their tune. Corporations are much more sensitive to negative
publicity than governments are. Even a small number of very vocal
activists can change the course of corporations.
I am giving the portal that wrote me the letter mentioned above a
chance to rethink their recent policy change before I publish their name
and start a campaign against them. I responded to their letter in much
the same tone as this article. If they realize the error of their ways
then no harm is done. I also believe the chances of this happening are
near zero. Updates of this issue will be published here at Zenzibar. We
all must take a stand against the abuses of corporate power.
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