What is censorship?

What is censorship? A quick Google search will bring you Oxford Language’s definition, declaring censorship to be “the suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security” (Oxford Languages). Now, why is censorship relevant? January 6, a mob attacked the nation’s Capitol, and former President Trump has been held responsible for his words which incited the violence that day. Subsequent to the attack on the Capitol, Twitter and several other media platforms banned President Trump from their sites for using his platform to glorify violence. Was Twitter banning Donald Trump from its platform an act of censorship? By definition, yes.

When else has censorship been historically relevant? Censorship has been traced back to Ancient Greece and Rome. In 399 BCE, Socrates was executed by the Athenian court on charges of impiety and corrupting the youth. Socrates corrupted the youth by introducing them to unknown gods and was executed for it, a fine example of extreme censorship.

Censorship can also be studied as demonstrated by the Ancient Chinese. Confucius was a particularly influential individual whose teachings are still relevant today. His philosophy placed great emphasis on respect for others and five primary bonds. However, Confucius claimed that “oppressive government is fiercer than a tiger,” possibly in response to Ancient China’s politics. To counter the influence of Confucius and other sages, wholesale book destruction took place in 231 BCE. However, this attempt at censorship was not effective as Confucianism prevailed and its impact on society is yet to be erased.

However, censorship can be noted in more modern times as well. The former Soviet Union (1922-1991) practiced intense censorship. Their practices included vigorous supervision of media before publication. The official Communist Party was quite authoritarian, supervising newspapers, broadcasting systems, books and virtually all forms of media. The government censored many things, which gives one the idea that individuals living in the former Soviet Union were devoid of factual information, true, raw art and even music.

In the Constitution, freedom of speech and freedom of the press are rights granted to all citizens in the First Amendment. However, the First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” (Madison). This deems that there will be no law(s) that infringe an individual citizen’s right to freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly or protest. Unless censorship is made a law, it does not infringe on anyone’s right to free speech granted by the First Amendment. Twitter did not pass a law; the company simply banned President Trump from their platform. It was a form of censorship, but the action was also neither illegal nor unconstitutional.