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Internet Censorship won’t work in Malaysia

Why shouldn’t Malaysia censor the internet?

Of late, the recent cases involving a certain pair of ‘sex’ bloggers and their ilk have prompted certain parties to call for more stringent regulations of the internet, but I for one think that we need to ensure that the internet remain free and un-censored–now more than ever. So why shouldn’t we censor the internet?

Rephrasing the question

The question itself deserves some space for discussion, the question should rather be posed as Why SHOULD we censor the internet? The onus should be left on those hoping to censor the internet to make their case before any defence should be made, implicit in the question of why we shouldn’t censor the internet is the assumption that someone has already made a strong case for censorship–that isn’t the case. In fact, what we have is merely anecdotal and conjecture rather than an argument backed up by facts and evidence.

A lot of people have made up their minds about it, mostly based on a series of assumptions–assumptions that usually false, and I hope to address the core assumption in this post.

Why censor at all?

The initial question we need to ask ourselves, is why are we censoring. Intuitively people know this, but most struggle to articulate the actual rationale for WHY they would like to turn over control of the world’s most powerful information repository to politicians.

Allow me to help. Some call for the censorship of the internet to prevent hate speech and the publishing of articles that are ‘seditious’ in nature. The core of the argument is that internet censorship would allow us to avert (or at least mitigate) racial, communal or religious violence ala May 13th. That seems to be the call of the day, when politicians threaten the general population from questioning facebook post, usage of changing rooms or even beauty pageant participation with the threat of sedition, as the very of act of questioning certain decisions can be construed as instigated hatred.

…But censorship doesn’t work

However, internet censorship doesn’t help avert or even mitigate this risk, in fact, it may even make the threat of violence more likely. Internet censorship or censorship in general does not help create a united/loving community. Think of the countries that have had communal violence in the last 2 decades, countries like Rwanda and Bosnia. Not only have these countries experienced genocide at a time when the world thought it an impossibility–they did so in a environment where the media was tightly controlled by the governments in power.

In Rwanda, the RTLM played a crucial role in inciting in violence. Prior to the killings, the radio station began a series of broadcast aimed intentionally at de-humanizing Tutsi, and shortly after a private plane carrying President Habyarimana was shot down, RTLM was more than willing to utilize its airwaves to further fuel the flames of hate. All of this occurred in a country where the government had committed ban against “harmful radio propaganda” in a UN joint communiqué in Dar es Salaam.

In Bosnia, Milosevic had such a tight stranglehold on the media outlets of Serbia, he might as well have written all the newspapers himself.

These two examples tell a sad story of human hatred and viciousness, but also serve as a lesson for us–a lesson Malaysian haven’t yet appreciated. Giving the government control of the media is by no means a guarantee against racial violence, in fact in both these examples the world stood witness to governments abusing the control of the media to further incite hatred rather than quell it.

These aren’t outliers either, closer to home, we see Myanmar, a country with one of the most abysmal internet censorship records–and they’re experiencing their own brand of communal violence against the Rohingya, all under the watchful eye of the government controlled internet, print and broadcast media.

We don’t want another Arab spring

Finally, we also have to address the countries taking part in the Arab Spring–all of them, whether it was Tunisia, Syria, Egypt or Bahrain, make up the bottom part of the Press Freedom Index. In fact, if the Press Freedom Index were the Premier League, they’d all be relegated next year. Sadly, both Malaysia and Singapore also occupy the same positions on the index–Malaysia Boleh indeed!

In conclusion though, it’s quite clear that internet censorship won’t avert or even mitigate the risk of violence or street protest. Delving deeper we may come to a conclusion that providing a free media, one that is free from government imposed restrictions, allows the population to voice their dissatisfaction with government policies that they view as unfair. A sort of safety valve, that releases tension so people don’t have to resort to violence out of sheer desperation but can instead turn to rationale discourse and debate over the most sensitive topics–because let’s face it–they’re sensitive for a reason.

The bottom line though, is that if you wanted to make a case to censor the internet, you would first have to address if it would work in achieving your end goal, failing which your entire case would be moot. I believe that if your end game was to avert violence–internet censorship would quite frankly do Jack Shit! And unless you can come up with a compelling explanations as to why censorship didn’t work in Rwanda, Serbia, Syria, Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Myanmar, but yet you think could work in Malaysia–then there really is no case for censorship.

So the reality is that internet censorship doesn’t help avert or mitigate violence, but rather the evidence suggest it actually promotes and allows it. How ironic indeed!