When people contemplate about the suppression of speech, public communication or other information, which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient, they think of countries with oppressive governments such as Russia, China, and so on.
What many tend to forget is that media outlets and other groups or institutions can practice this same harmful act of suppression. A prime example of this is modern day social media, which has the ability to censor us across the globe. The tentacles of these influential entities can reach into your pocket, where you unknowingly tucked away your smartphone. Above all, they are not even held accountable for limiting your freedom of speech.
Recently my freedom of speech was squashed. Let me briefly sketch what happened to me during the past 24 hours. Yesterday, after watching Zeitgeist: The Movie I felt inspired. The documentary was a genuine eye-opener on a day that was supposed to be a lazy Sunday. Consequently, I thought it would be great to share a piece of the newly acquired information. Hence, I posted a quote from the movie on my Instagram account for the roaming souls who are seeking for a change in the catacombs of our modern day society. The print screen displayed a quote from N. Rockefeller who appears in Zeitgeist.
After editing the photo, I checked the Zeitgeist website to see if I am allowed to distribute their material. After some quality “Google-time” I learned more about the Zeitgeist movement and found it to be okay for me to post their content. All I needed to do was make sure that I would not make any profit with my post. Seeing that it was just for my public Instagram feed, which contained a lot of street art and subversive life-lessons, I uploaded the image around 11:00 PM (CET) and carried on. Consequently, I added some hashtags and an inspirational quote from James A. Garfield, the 20th president of the United States of America.
“Whoever controls the volume of money in our country is absolute master of all industry and commerce…when you realize that the entire system is very easily controlled, one way or another, by a few powerful men at the top, you will not have to be told how periods of inflation and depression originate.” ― James A. Garfield
Just to be clear, I have used the same step by step approach with all my former one hundred twenty-eight posts on Instagram, without any prior issues. After posting my image, several likes started to come in. Thereupon I went to bed with the intense imagery of the documentary flashing in front of my eyes. Synchronously the knowledge that I had obtained rushed through my overzealous brain from one synapse to the other in new-fangled ways.
When I woke up the next day I wanted to check what became of my last post, only to find my Instagram account to be logged off. At 6:30 AM (CET) I did not feel like jumping to any conclusions. Instead, I charged ahead with my morning routine, the mandatory bathroom break followed by a coffee, soymilk, and some breakfast. Given the fact that I had just opened my eyes it suited me just fine.
Like many social media users and smartphone regulars, I thought it was a password issue due to the last software update on my Fairphone. However, I started to become suspicious the longer I tried to log in. As a result, I searched for an explanation and a possible solution to gain control of my account once more. It occurred to me that my account might have been hacked. The more I searched for an answer, the sooner I realized that my account (@SpaceUtopian) was removed.
I was not warned of this in any way. I had not received an e-mail, a text message or distressing smoke signals concerning the possibly inappropriate content of my last post. The moderators of Instagram simply removed my entire feed overnight. The only answer I can come up with is that I did not follow their Community Guidelines. I for one respectfully believe that I did not do such a thing. Stunned by this event, only one word came to mind: censorship, the practice of limiting access to information, ideas or books in order to prevent knowledge or freedom of thought. It is a drill with which Instagram appears to be familiar.
I do not mourn the loss of my account. Yet I am curious as to which way my content violated Instagram’s Community Guidelines. I dread the reality with which I was confronted today. The slight brush of the online censoring tactics caught me off-guard. The reality with which I was confronted after posting a screenshot from an award-winning documentary, freely available online, boggled my mind.
Direct censorship may or may not be legal, depending on the type, place, and content. Yet, I cannot conceive any answer as to why my account was deleted. Part of my feed is still online on FLICKR, so you be the judge of how harmful my content was. In the meantime, more questions puzzle my mind. How free are we? What is freedom of speech? How democratic is the world in which we live? How can our governments allow a private organization to engage in censorship?
“Censorship is never over for those who have experienced it. It is a brand on the imagination that affects the individual who has suffered it, forever.” – Noam Chomsky
When a multinational like Instagram shuts down a public account from a small-time citizen journalist and blogger, I can only feel flattered that I caught their interest. My post seemed to be of some kind of threat to an inconspicuous persona or a small influential coterie with a hidden agenda. It is the confirmation that I was searching for: my opinion matters. Simultaneously I do ask myself, where do we, the people, stand? What awaits us when we condone multinationals to prey on our basic human rights? In what way would our democratic platform for expressing ourselves differ from the dominant Eastern suppression of freedom of speech?