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A web column I wrote for my school newspaper, “Inklings“:

 

 “Banned Books Week Is Getting Old”

Haris Durrani

October 2, 2009 — Inklings

I am one of the few kids around without a Facebook account. I get plenty of laughs and weird looks for that. Nevertheless, while I personally don’t use Facebook, other people do – and sometimes for good reason.

 So the fact that our school blocks Facebook is a problem.

 And in the wake of Banned Books Week (Sept. 26-Oct. 2), Internet freedom is a vital issue that needs discussion.

 There should be an Internet Freedom Week as well. The Internet makes censorship more difficult, so it’s a specific medium of speech and communication that ought to be protected.

Banning books is getting a little bit irrelevant. The question should be how we use the Internet, not only books.

On the web, you can download all the offensive cartoons everyone gets so upset about and all the bits of controversial writing you want to. You can also create all that typically censored material as well.

 Just because a book is not published or an article is cut from the newspaper does not mean either piece of writing won’t end up on the Internet.

 And even though censorship is also possible online, the solution to Internet censorship is Internet freedom, which would make it more difficult for organizations to get a firm grip on the rapid flow of online data.

 Take Cory Doctorow. He has received piles of awards and nominations for his science fiction novels and short stories (“Makers,” his upcoming novel, will come out around the end of October), writes a regular column for the “Guardian,” is a co-editor of the popular blog BoingBoing.net, and has landed multiple times on “Forbes’ ” Top 25 Web Celebrities list. Even “Writer’s Digest” did their September issue cover feature on Doctorow.

 While successful, he never even thinks about – let alone allows – his books to be signed off without Creative Commons licenses. Each of his novels is available free at his website, craphhound.com.

 A strong supporter of Internet freedom, Doctorow believes that even when publishers or movie companies try to prevent people from stealing copyrighted information, the data can always be leaked, so you might as well keep things available in the first place.

 He makes his money when people read his books for free online and buy the hardcopy out of respect for his mission of Internet freedom or out of a traditional desire to have the actual novel in hand. In fact, many of his fans discover his work via the Internet – not the bookstores.

 If a government, corporation, librarian, or publisher removes a book from the shelves, it can always end up online – but it won’t get read as much if it’s not free. If it is, then who knows? The novel can circulate more easily on the web, generating more support for a potential print publication.

 But online information reaches lots of people, and quickly. Even if it’s deleted, the ideas behind the author’s work would remain preserved in minds of anyone who got a chance to read the piece.

 Obviously, it’s not always that simple. Governments – China, Saudi Arabia, Iran – can censor the Internet too. But, as Jim Giles mentioned in his Aug. 21, 2009 “Newscientist” article (“Worldwide Battle Rages for Control of the Internet”), there are existing methods of bypassing government censorship online.

 One of them, Tor, was created by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. In fact, the protagonist of Doctorow’s recent young adult novel, “Little Brother,” used Tor to evade his school’s Internet censorship programs, and Doctorow himself is former European director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

 If governments improve their blocking methods, programmers – like anything else in nature – will adapt.

 When things get really bad, we can always take it to the next step. It went from verbal story-telling to books to the Internet. The next thing you know, we’ll have computer chips in our brains. Censorship might become a literally painful process.

 Doctorow wrote an interesting June 2, 2009 “Guardian” article, “Search is too important to leave to one company – even Google,” about the potential for bias in the seemingly harmless process of categorization and search functions. As a solution, he suggested a system in which users can control the methods their search engines use.

 The point here is control.

 Different societal, economic, and political groups can burn all the books they want to, but it’s harder for them to do the same online. Especially if they’re not the ones in control.

 If we want to protect our free speech, books shouldn’t be the number one priority. The Internet should be – and it ought to be free.

 A Jan. 21, 2009 article from “Time” by Lev Grossman – “Books Gone Wild: The Digital Age Reshapes Literature” – did a great job talking about the shifts publishing is going through today from print to the Internet.

 So if we’re going to go crazy about free speech, we may as well start thinking, and thinking early. The “next thing” everyone seems to be raving about is Internet publishing. Let’s make it uncensored. Let’s make it free.

 Let’s celebrate Internet Freedom Week instead.

… or read the article here.

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