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Can Internet censorship of any particular content be justified under certain circumstances? Explain.

Live TED Conversation: Join TED Fellow Walid Al-Saqaf

Walid is a Yemeni media researcher and activist. He is the developer of alkasir censorship circumvention software used to help users, primarily in the Middle East, access censored content.

This conversation will open at 1:00PM EST on August 5th.

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  • Aug 5 2011: At what point can one deem censorship justifiable? I believe there are many cases in which information or media could be deemed harmful in a quantifiable way, notably that which relates to children. In the case of child pornography, for example, one could argue that it's censorship is to protect the child involved and to discourage further abuse. However, how about in 200 years from now, when all of the children that were used for child porn are long dead, would it still be "wrong" to censor this information?
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      Aug 5 2011: Well it doesn't matter whether the children in those pedophile materials are dead or not. It is the basic notion of abuse of children that is agreed universally to be unethical and should be challenged.

      However, Internet censorship in the form of website or keyword filtering of such material has rarely been proven to be effective. But chasing down the owners and having them prosecuted would be much more viable.
      • Aug 5 2011: In Sweden there are people currently having problems with the law "censoring" material considered to be child porn, which isn't even depicting real children. Whenever art is considered to be anything but art, society needs to take a step back an reconsider its actions. The laws are there to protect real live children! Not about censoring comic books or any other form of artistic expression.
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          Aug 5 2011: Yes, the dilemma is that there is no single standard for everything. That is why I agree with the Ryan Marin's comment below that sometimes one needs to take things on a case-by-case basis.
      • Aug 5 2011: So explain how the audio recordings of Jonestown, where you can hear hundreds of infants dying, can be played on the history channel, but child pornography (which is at worst equally as bad) is banned.
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          Aug 5 2011: Maybe it is the sexual element.
        • Aug 5 2011: I wouldn't say that the Jonestown audio is as bad as child porn. I doubt you could find more than two people who could listen to that audio and find satisfaction that makes them want to repeat the process. Child porn serves a niche market, provides them temporary satisfaction to an urge, an helps them cope with repeating the behavior.
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          Aug 5 2011: I agree with Ryan on this. Child porn is an act that abuses innocent children in return of money. So it is a business, albeit sick one, for some people.
    • Aug 5 2011: The censorship of child pornography has more to do with the suppression of a sexual trait than helping protect the victims who have already been abused. It is a means of keeping others from viewing naked children and trying to repeat the process and creating new victims. So yes, child porn is still wrong no matter where the victims are.
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        Aug 5 2011: Indeed. Censorship can have many forms. And taking down a server full of pedophile content is legitimate censorship in my view.

        But there are occasions when website filtering that is supposed to be done to prevent accessing such material becomes abused and expands to be used to block political content. That is what happens in some Arab countries.
      • Aug 5 2011: Okay, but under those guidelines, how can we justify rape fantasy pornography or some violent video games?
      • Aug 5 2011: But the action performed at Johnstown is unarguably worse, so by your definition, things are censored not by the severity of moral corruption, but by combination of abusive behavior and the quantity of people who would derive pleasure or be tempted to recreate what they see? What if videos of people being killed were responsible for every school shooting? Under your premise, that too should be censored. However, they are not (at least, it's not illegal to view).
        • Aug 5 2011: Though, violent computer games are censored.

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