Self-censorship a growing problem
While outright censorship is often publicized, the effects of government surveillance over the internet may be having a negative impact on countries where such practices are typically not seen as prevalent.
There have been numerous consequences of the recently leaked information regarding government surveillance programs in countries such as the Untied States and the United Kingdom. It used to be that these nations were seen as shining examples of free speech done right, however, it is growing increasingly known that this is simply not the case.
Many users in the U.S. were shocked to learn that the National Security Administration could gain access to very personal information including emails and other activity conducted over the Internet. As a result, some may have felt less inclined to share this kind of information on cyberspace, though it is difficult to avoid. One of the worst parts about it is that the practice of sharing information online is one of the Internet's biggest strengths in promoting wider knowledge for people who would otherwise not have access.
Writers growing more concerned
Some of the biggest sharers of thought and ideas over cyberspace are writers. Be them musings from personal blogs or hard hitting investigative journalism like the stories that first leaked the information about these surveillance programs, the nature of writing online seems to be to share information.
This is why a recent study by the PEN American Center, an organization that fights for the rights of writers around the world, is so disheartening, according to the New York Times. According to the report, 73 percent of those surveyed say that are more worried today about privacy rights and freedom of the press than ever before. These respondents came from a variety of areas within the field including fiction, nonfiction, editorial, translation and agents.
Further, 28 percent of respondents have said that they are limiting activity on social media, while another 12 percent has considered doing so. Close to a quarter of these people have also avoided certain topics in their email.
A slippery slope
This news is particularly concerning given that these kinds of practices are common in other parts of the world where censorship is far more prevalent, such as China.
According to CNN, a number of people have been silenced or stepped down as a result of the topics that they reported on either from within or about the country. Last year, the Chinese ambassador to the U.S. sought to persuade Bloomberg's editor-in-chief about not publishing a story about the country's leader's family, while a talk show host from Taiwan was forced to step down for discussing controversial topics.
While these are some examples of outright censorship by the government, such practices have ripple effects throughout the country and the rest of the world. The news source noted that these examples can lead to self-censorship policies from publications and other media outlets for covering controversial issues such as the Chinese control of Tibet.
On top of this, some foreign correspondents working within the country could also subject themselves to self-censorship because of the delicate nature of their status living and working in the country. Companies that work in China could also not offer some of their services to its citizens if the government finds them to be too controversial.
Obviously, the situations in the U.S. and China are certainly different, but what happens when different means find the same ends? If people are limiting their own thoughts out of fear of what could happen as a result, true democracy is ultimately limited. If individuals are writing in climates where they are concerned about what they can and cannot publish, what does "freedom of speech" actually entail?