The Dilemma: Safety versus Censorship

Raiford Guins enters the ongoing discussion regarding digital censorship with with a different perspective. Censorship in the digital age does not limit only to government and authority controlling our access to information and surveilling our Internet usage, but censorship is also in our hands – the digital consumers. We, as “consumers, in particular, have entered into new relationships with their everyday technology that enable them to personally “inscribe” and claim responsibility for their own experience with media” (xii). As digital media technology offers a wide array of choices and self-regulations, censorship now lies on “how we actively manage and regulate our own relations to media content and technology today and the older incarnations of institutional media censorship” (xii).

As today’s digital devices offer the “parental function” incorporated in the hardware or as software to filter unedited, “unclean” materials and prohibit children to access those materials, parents have more control, and simultaneously, freedom in deciding the cultural artifacts to be consumed by the family. However, this decision is equivalent to a censorial process. Thus, Guins argues that there exists a dilemma between the desire to ensure cultural safety (preventing young children to have access to violence, sexual content, profanity, etc) and digital freedom. In other words, when we put on the “control” feature of a digital device, it is us who censor ourselves. New media technology thus constitutes a new kind of censorship.

This process of transferred governmentality, from a government-focused and institution-focused censorship to the users’ self-regulations is part of the continuing active digital production/consumption discourse. Just as the users are simultaneously the consumers of digital media, with the widespread presence of available technology advancements, they also become active producers of their own digital products. Think of blogposts, YouTube videos, activism, etc. Digital users are engaged in an active, intertwining process of consuming media and producing their own. Censorship, in a sense, is also part of this process. The wide array of technological advancements, from V-Chip technology to built-in parental settings to Internet filtering, offer users, especially parents, the opportunity to be the ‘producers’ of their own censorship.

As Guins argues:

In instrumentalizing the protocols of control the “user” is regarded as autonomous (rather than passive) and “made” responsible as a governing agent for interactions and interfaces with these technologies. Our governance is regarded as not external, institutional, and authoritative but internal, parental and beneficent: literally located in our own hands and sound judgement.

Censorship when put in the users’ hand is considered “empowerment”. Digital consumers now feel that they are offered choices and options and decisions in regards to their digital usage and protection. To what degree does this hold true? Are we the consumers actually empowered by these technological affordances? We are somewhat manipulated by technology, thinking we have the freedom to decide for ourselves and protect others. Self-regulation is now an extension of governmental and institutional censorship. In a way, we are taken further away from digital freedom. The question of safety versus censorship remains to be discussed.


Guins, Raiford. Technology and the Culture of Control. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2009. Print.



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