October 21, 2009

Twitter's Actions Reprehensible, Not Censorship

Detail from Government. Mural by Elihu Vedder....Image via Wikipedia

When Twitter removed "no god" from their list of trending topics, the online atheist community immediately started buzzing. Atheist bloggers and Twitter users alike complained of Twitter's censorship. Twitter's action in this matter was unfortunate but it was not censorship. Calling it censorship reflects a common misunderstanding of censorship. So what's the big deal?

In a nutshell, censorship requires government intervention. Censorship refers to governmental actions that restrict free expression. It is a problem because it conflicts with certain laws protecting free expression.

In the private sector (e.g., Twitter), a company can decide to do things like removing or adding content of their choosing. Twitter's decision to remove "no god" from the trending topics list was not censorship. Similarly, the decision by Fox "News" not to cover recent LGBT protests in Washington DC was not censorship. Mistaken? Sure. Evidence that Fox "News" is anything but news? Absolutely. But not censorship.

Censorship is real, continues to occur, and is a serious problem. Christian extremist groups do indeed pressure the government to censor certain materials, and far too often, the government caves in to this pressure and engages in censorship. By labeling Twitter's actions as censorship, we confuse the issue and make real censorship seem less important.

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