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Is Censorship Worth It?

By: Jordan Kendall

What is censorship? It is the suppression of ideas, images, or words that are classified as “offensive.”[1] Censorship may be used by governments or private groups to facilitate their interests.[2] So, why does it matter in the entertainment industry? The entertainment industry is so vast and broadly affects the interest of the public.[3] More so, censorship in the entertainment industry is often most visible.[4] Attempts to censor entertainment and its mediums interfere with the universal belief that all individuals should have freedoms of speech and expression.[5]

Censorship has appeared throughout history in various medians, methods, and formats.[6] All the way back in 399 BC, Socrates was executed for opposing the Greek government’s censorship of his teachings and opinions.[7] In September 2021, YouTube, with pressure from the Russian government, restricted access to videos that opposed the United Russia political party.[8] This censorship was directed at Alexei Navalny and his team who had been using YouTube to broadcast anti-corruption videos and provide anti-Kremlin commentary.[9] Shortly after, YouTube censored Russian news organizations’ YouTube accounts, such as RT DE and Der Fehlende Part, for posting “false information” about the coronavirus.[10] In both censorship-related events, the censoring likely caused greater publicity than allowing the content to exist; potentially defeating the initial purpose of censorship.[11] 

Censorship Increases Awareness and Incentivizes Censorship Evasion

When censorship is suddenly imposed on information or YouTube videos/accounts that were previously freely accessible, those accustomed to viewing the videos or information are incentivized to learn ways to evade censorship.[12] Once evasion tools are learned, individuals can gain access to other long censored information.[13] In an American Political Science Review article, the authors found that China’s ban on Instagram inspired many individuals to acquire VPNs to access Instagram.[14] Those individuals then used their censorship evasion skills to access other censored websites and information.[15] In effect, the censorship didn’t prevent use of Instagram, it only lead individuals to access additional censored information/material.

Another recent study of media censorship found that “free access alone does not induce [individuals] to acquire politically sensitive information.”[16] However, “temporary encouragement [to view censored information or videos] leads to a persistent increase in acquisition” of censored information in the future.[17] This study followed 1,800 university students in China that were split into a test group and a control group.[18] The test group received tools to bypass internet censorship while the control group were subject to the usual Chinese internet censorship.[19] A portion of the test group were encouraged to visit western news sources.[20] This encouragement lasted for four months, however, after the four months, those individuals  continued to independently access information deemed politically sensitive and censored without incentive.[21]

These findings suggest that the best way to hide information is not to censor, but to allow free non-incentivized access. As individuals generally do not seek out censorship eligible information, censored material creates greater publicity and incentivizes individuals’ to develop censorship evasion skills. Thus, the purpose of censorship is frustrated.

Wrap Up

When YouTube censored videos that opposed the United Russia political party, the United Russia political party was already predicted to win, Navalny’s team was not allowed to run for office or vote, and there were still ways to access the information found in the YouTube posts.[22] Further, while YouTube censors Russian news organizations’ YouTube accounts, there are other videos sharing “false information” regarding the coronavirus. YouTube’s censorship of the Russian news organizations only brought wide scale publicity to the censorship event as Russia threatened to ban YouTube. In both censorship events, it is likely that the public frustration with censorship brought more publicity and interest to the censored videos. So, one must ask, was it worth it to censor?


[1] Freedom of Expression in the Arts and Entertainment, American Civil Liberties Union, https://www.aclu.org/other/freedom-expression-arts-and-entertainment (last visited Oct. 11, 2021).

[2] Id.

[3] Censorship – Entertainment Law, US Legal, Inc., https://entertainmentlaw.uslegal.com/censorship/ (last visited Oct. 11, 2021).

[4] Id.

[5] Supra note 1.

[6] Glenn Halbrooks, How Media Censorship in America Affects the News You See, Thought Co (July 14, 2020) https://www.thoughtco.com/how-media-censorship-affects-the-news-you-see-2315162.

[7] Id.

[8] Tom Balmforth, Navalny Allies Accuse YouTube, Telegram of Censorship in Russian Election, Reuters, (Sept. 21, 2021), https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/navalny-allies-accuse-telegram-censorship-russian-election-2021-09-18/.

[9] Id.

[10] Russia Denounces YouTube Censorship and Threatens to Suspend the Platform in the Country, Prime Time Zone (Sept. 29, 2021), https://primetimezone.com/technology/russia-denounces-youtube-censorship-and-threatens-to-suspend-the-platform-in-the-country.

[11] William R. Hobbs & Margaret E. Roberts, How Sudden Censorship Can Increase Access to Information, 112 Am. Pol. Sci. Rev., 621-36 (2018).

[12] Id. at 621.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Yuyu Chen & David Y. Yang, The Impact of Media Censorship: 1984 or Brave New World? 109 Am. Econ. Rev., 2294-332 (2019).

[17] Id. at 2294.

[18] Id. at 2295.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Supra note 8; see also Russian Authorities Block Final Access Point to Navalny’s ’Smart Voting’ Website, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Sept. 7, 2021, 8:18 AM),https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-smart-voting-app-blocked/31447576.html.