Censorship and Stupidity

Some arguments are too stupid to treat with respect. Today I’ll discuss one:

Again, this seems absurd. If I don’t let you comment on my blog, I’m not censoring you. You’re welcome to comment elsewhere.


This is probably the dumbest argument I see on a regular basis. Censorship is a form of exclusion where distribution of certain content is prevented by those in power. By definition, deleting people’s comments because you don’t like what’s in them is censorship.

That’s why people making this argument never discuss actual definitions. Instead, they always say people can “comment elsewhere” like that means something. It doesn’t. You don’t have to be able to censor somebody everywhere in order to censor them.

A woman in Afghanistan tries to report the news. Men smash her equipment, saying women don’t belong in the news. She cries censorship. Her boss says, “You weren’t censored. You can report community news in rural Wyoming.”

A person who can’t participate in a community is censored from that community. The fact they may be able to work at some other community doesn’t mean the censorship in the first community magically disappears. This argument is the same as claiming a person isn’t exiled because they can “go elsewhere.”

A man working for Fox News tries to run stories supporting Obamacare. After months of his stories being blocked, he cries censorship. Management says, “You weren’t censored. You can go work for MSNBC.”

It’s stupid. It’s intellectually vapid. It borders on insane.

And it all stems from people being too cowardly to accept a word with negative connotations can apply to them at times. To them, censorship is bad so they can’t possibly censors. It doesn’t matter if the word has a clear definition that fits them.

They don’t want to think of themselves that way so they’ll ignore definitions. They’ll ignore logic. They’ll ignore everything. They’ll refuse to think and instead say stupid things just so they can avoid facing a harsh reality: censorship is normal..

Everyone engages in censorship. We all have certain things we don’t tolerate within our social groups. When a person spews vile, racist remarks around me at a bar, I tell them to go away. I censor vile, racist remarks. On this site, I don’t allow foul language. I censor foul langage. So forth and so on.

Censorship is normal. People who refuse to acknowledge they engage in it are deluding themselves so they can feel better about themselves. They do so by setting up a straw man (i.e. censorship only counts if the person has no other venues) so they can avoid addressing the concerns people have.

Everyone knows comments on blogs are moderated. Things like spam and links to pornographic imagery are generally censored from them. That means people aren’t simply saying they were censored when they cry censorship. What they actually mean is, “You censored me because you don’t like what I had to say.”

They may be right; there are biased moderators on the internet. They may be wrong; some moderation is done without any bias. Neither possibility is addressed by misrepresenting their concerns. All anyone does by effectively saying, “I’m not omnipotent so I can’t stop you from talking” is look like an idiot.

It’s a farce. It’s just people playing games with words so they don’t have to look at issues they find uncomfortable.

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7 comments

  1. As I said to a complainer on Climate, Etc.: “If you don’t like the moderation policy, start your own d*** blog.”

    WordPress will let you have one for free. I have one. I get about 20 page views a day (my excuse – it’s a specialty aircraft blog)

    Judy gets 12,000 views a day. If you want her readership, you play by her rules.

  2. Quick moderation note. If you’re going to curse here, you need to censor the entire word.

    Anyway, that sort of response is unhelpful David Jay, Suppose Judith Curry decided to delete all comments which claim global warming is a serious threat? Would you tell people who complained to shut up and start their own blog? I wouldn’t. As a practical matter, finding a different place to talk may be a good idea. However, shutting up is neither necessary nor appropriate. Telling people who make the rules their rules are bad is a good thing.

    Suppose you go to a person’s house for a cook out. People start discussing sports and you mention Muhammad Ali being your favorite athlete. As soon as you do, people shush you. You ask why, and they say, “Our host doesn’t let us say good things about black people.” Would you just go, “Oh, well I can’t abide that rule so I’ll leave”? I wouldn’t. I’d leave if and when the host asked me to leave, but until then I’d make a fuss about racism being wrong.

    Hosts are free to make whatever rules they want. People are free to complain about those rules. Sometimes those complaints will lead to the rules being changed. Sometimes they’ll lead to the complainant being banned. Sometimes they’ll just be ignored. Whatever results may come, there’s nothing wrong with making the complaints.

  3. You need to think about the distinction between editorial selection and censorship.

    Choosing not to allow curse words usually is editorial selection.

    Sometimes it’s a muddied distinction, like with not allowing insults, unless you are calling somebody a denier. Then it’s allowed.

  4. Carrick, the distinction between editorial selections and censorship is simple. Editorial selections are made by a person publishing material (legally, a publisher is basically anyone who distributes material). Censorship is done by a third party. Put simply, censorship is when a party external to communication attempts to interfere with that communication.*

    So long as I maintain this as a public forum where people can communicate with one another, I have no editorial control over what you say. The most I can do is censor things which I find objectionable. It has an editorial impact, but only as a byproduct. If I do anything more, I cease to be a passive conduit for communication and become an active participant in all communication on the site.

    Incidentally, this is related to why I dislike Word of God moderation. Snipping comments/adding text to them can change the impression given by their remarks. That’s taking editorial control of their material. It’s not inherently wrong, but it can easily amount to intellectual theft. Also, actively modifying comments makes you a republisher.

    *I leave off the qualifier that the interference must target material considered to be “objectionable” by the censor because it is basically meaningless. People can object to material for almost any reason.

  5. Brandon, I don’t find the issues to be that easily distinguished. A lot of what you seem to be calling censorship I see as editorial control.

    If the excising of the material was based on editorial judgement (e.g., what I want to appear on my publication to make it attractive for readers), that’s editorial. But if I want to push a particular political agenda and I find your message inconvenient to that, as I see it, this is censorship.

    Obviously there is gray area… for example, editors might be offended by what you said due to their own personal biases. This happened during the Bush vs. Clinton campaign. By their own admissions, there were editors who were friends with Bill Clinton, got tired of seeing negative stories about him, and refused to run the stories.

    Was this censorship or editorial control?

  6. Carrick, you refer to “what I want to appear on my publication.” This implies comments on my site are part of my publication. They are not. The only portions of web pages that are my content are my posts.* The comments sections are public venues. What’s said in comments on this site belongs to me no more than what’s said at an open mic belongs to the pub owner.

    Anyway, editorial control refers to control one exercises over content he or she publishes. Censorship refers to control one exercises over content other people publish. This distinction is simple and clear. It’s also one which allows for overlap. People who fear being censored will often exercise editorial control over their material in order to avoid censorship.

    To answer your question, editors who refused to publish stories other people wrote because of what those stories said engaged in censorship. Ones who merely refused to write such pieces engaged in “editorial restraint.” Some may have engaged in both.

    *Well, my comments too. They’re in a separate class though as they’re no different than anyone else’s.

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