Surveillance, Transparency and the Hidden in Contemporary Culture
Edited By Henriette Steiner and Kristin Veel
15 The Invisibilities of Internet Censorship
The emergence of new forms of censorship is the dark side of the digital revolution.1 While digitisation has revolutionised communication, it has also facilitated escalations in both surveillance and censorship practices.2 The use of filtering software has thus become a common response both to controversial online content such as pornography, violence and hate speech, as well as to less obviously problematic content, in particular if this is judged as a threat to established norms.3
In a certain sense, digital censorship resembles traditional political and religious forms of censorship. This is not surprising since the word ‘revolution’, if we understand the term etymologically, must entail a sense of circularity.4 Yet digital technology also has distinguishing features that set it apart from all previous socio-technological inventions. It has therefore enabled the dramatic inversion of cultural, political and legal infrastructures, which in turn has created a ‘cultural lag’ between censorship as cultural-legal concept and socio-technological practice. This chapter shows how current epistemological concepts of censorship and the legislative frameworks that protect citizens against censorship are challenged by new, and often opaque, digital censorship assemblages.
Understanding how digital censorship practices work, and how they differ from traditional forms of censorship, necessitates an examination of the infrastructures of digital censorship. Infrastructures is here understood to encompass both basic physical and organisational structures and more abstract entities such as protocols (human and computer) and standards.5
While the impact of infrastructures...
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