Introduction

When a government inhibits international news and communications from entering its nation, it leaves its citizens in a shadow of ignorance. The fact that the Internet is difficult to censor makes it not only a helpful tool in the downfall of authoritarian governments, but a way to defend free speech in democratic nations like the United States.

Knowing this, the simple solution would seem to be to not allow the Internet into authoritarian countries, but authoritarian nations, especially those in Asia, realize its vital value as a cheap and efficient communications tool, especially for businesses. Therefore, these countries want to control rather than to altogether ban the Internet.(Campbell, p58)

This forms a "Catch-22" situation for authoritarian governments. If they allow technology to take its course and allow the Internet into the country with no censorship, democratic thoughts and persuasions will seep in. If the country decides to censor, or not allow the Internet into the country at all, they will be depriving themselves of the latest technology.

The Beginning of Censorship

This dilemma is not unique to modern society. The first drastic censorship began in Russia during Catherine the Great's reign, from 1763 to 1796.

This censorship developed because the "intellectual elite" were able to read Western philosophies. Many of these elite found republican ideals more attractive than the autocratic controls of Russia and began to spread the new ideas by the importation of printing technology. Shortly before her death in 1796, Catherine approved the first official censoring administration.(McReynolds, p.5)

It is interesting to think of the Internet as a modern-day printing technology (simply another means of spreading media) and see the impact it can hold.

The Dangers of Censorship

With censorship comes dangerous consequences. Journalist Walter Lippmann tells in his essay "What Liberty Means" how the threat of censorship effects a nation. He says that suppression creates tension in even the steadiest minds and produces "sterility" in the minds of the censored.

Men cease to say what they think; and when they cease to say it, they soon cease to think it. They think in reference to their critics and not in reference to the facts. For when thought becomes socially hazardous, men spend more time wondering about the hazard than they do in cultivating their thought.(Lippmann, pp.22-23)

In essence, censorship creates tension not only in the censored nation but throughout the world and creates people who are scared to think revolutionary thoughts. This is illustrated by the example of modern communist Russia. The people most active in fighting the censorship were not in Russia but in free nations like the United States. This is because most Russians were scared to think revolutionary thoughts. If one considers this long enough, he or she will see that not only does revolutionary thinking cease, but so may revolutionary technology -- like the Internet.

The Internet is merely another form of technology. However, it is a greater threat to authoritarianism than the facsimile and the telephone because it allows people to receive large amounts of information quickly. Also, this information can be saved on small diskettes and quickly spread from one computer to the next. Authoritarian governments like China, Iraq and formerly Russia see the potential threat to their regime and are seeking a way to censor the Internet. Yet, as of now, these governments have been unsuccessful, and to date, the Internet has proven to be a lighthouse to the truth.