Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Does Censorship cause Violence?

A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned - this is the sum of good government.
-Thomas Jefferson
While in high school one of my English classes included several anti-utopian novels, 1984, Brave New World, Animal Farm, and Brave New World. Perhaps this influenced my world view with the idea that civilization is very thin and likely to crack under a pressure. Take London for example. The British are rightly proud of how the country and the city maintained civil society and politeness and queues under German Blitz of bombs and rockets raining down. Much of the credit should be given to Winston Churchill, "Never Surrender", who provided real leadership under stress.

Churchill was recently mentioned at a Sunday evening concert at West Point Military Academy that my wife & I attended. During WWII Parliament voted to eliminate funding in the Arts as part of war-time budget cuts. Churchill vetoed this and said that especially during times of war, the public needs to be reminded what it is fighting for (i.e. Civilization as represented by the arts).

Such respect for civilization is not evident in London today. There is much debate over the causes for the London riots and I don't know yet what to believe. However one article caught my eye from techdirt.com

New Research: Internet Censorship To Stop Protests... Actually Increases Protests

Recently San Francisco shut down the cell phone system in the cities subway BART system over fear that a protest group might gather there. One response by the British government to the London crisis is to consider censoring social media like Facebook. What the research shows is that people get more violent when denied the chance to express themselves peacefully. The pen may be mightier than the sword but if you take away the pens then you leave people with only swords to express themselves.

Researchers modeled the behavior of protesters on computers with proven simulation techniques that have a decent track record for accuracy.

The agent's behaviour is influenced by several variables, the first one being his/her personal level of political dissatisfaction ("grievance"). This can lead the agent to abandon his/her state of quiet and become an active protester. However, the decision to act out -- whether it is to go on a looting spree or to engage in violent demonstrations -- is conditioned by the agent's social surroundings ("neighbourhood" in the model's language). Does s/he detect the presence of police in the surroundings? If the answer to this question is no, s/he will act out. If the answer is yes, another question is asked: is this police presence counterbalanced by a sufficient number of actively protesting citizens? If the answer to this second question is yes, then the agent acts out. Sometimes, in an utterly random way, one of the active citizens gets caught by the police and is sent to jail for a given period of time. Again, the apparent simplicity of this rule, is sadly consistent with the many episodes of arbitrary and "swift" justice triggered by the UK government adoption of a hard line in dealing with riot repression.
The researchers added Internet censorship to the simulation to see what impact it has. They found the greater the censorship, the greater the violence.

Bottom Line

Censorship isn't likely to help and is likely makes things worse.

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