Roundup: Censorship

Censorship occurs when someone — an organization, group, government, media outlet, or similar — suppresses something that they believe will be harmful or objectionable. Sometimes people censor in the belief that they are helping to protect others from seeing, hearing, or reading something that is offensive and/or would harm someone. Other times it can be done as a power play, to prevent someone from having a voice. There are ongoing arguments as to whether or not censorship is ever justifiable, or even whether or not a website’s terms of service, while legal, qualifies as censorship. It’s a complicated, multifaceted topic that University of Washington professor Vanessa Freije and her students tackled in their fall 2016 class, Readings in Censorship.

Rather than focus on specific instances of censorship, the class chose to look at censorship on the national level and where it has occurred due to that country or nation’s political or religious regime. In Communist Romania the regime tried to remove all traces of pre-communism Romania from the country and minds of its people. If you wanted to publish something you had to run it by the censor board, who could deny publication to anything they felt did not fit the Communist Party’s ideology.

Students penned new articles for censorship in VietnamFrancoist SpainNigeria. As with Communist Romania, Francoist Spain censored material that they felt did not fit into their ideology such as anything they felt pushed a liberal political or non-conservative ideology. Vietnam and Nigeria are both countries where laws to protect freedom of speech do exist, but in practice forms of government censorship and manipulation still remain.

Another topic the students edited was that of big mama, a Chinese neologism used to refer to human censors and moderators who remove politically sensitive content from news forums, web bulletin board systems, and chatrooms in the People’s Republic of China. These censors and moderators are called “big mamas” as a reference to the matriarchs in traditional Chinese families who take on the responsibility of caring for others in the family. Comparisons have been drawn between the European and American concept of “Big Brother” and the Chinese big mamas, especially as some web companies in both “Big Brother” and big mama areas will self-censor in an attempt to avoid potential scrutiny from their respective governments and issues that this may bring.

Wikipedia has a wealth of knowledge, however the site cannot grow without users contributing and correcting information to the site. Editing is a wonderful way to teach your students about technical writing, collaboration, and sourcing in a unique learning environment. If you are interested in using Wikipedia with your next class, please contact Wiki Education at to find out how you can gain access to tools, online trainings, and printed materials.

Image: Censored stamp.jpg, by Piotr VaGla Waglowski, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.


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