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Addressing Censorship Confusion

Updated: Feb 28, 2023

Why the public is confused about censorship, content moderation and cancel culture and what you can do about it.

Book challenges to libraries are skyrocketing as the volume of attempted censorship efforts is unprecedented. Intimidation tactics have been used in local communities and these demands for censorship of library materials have become more well-organized and well-funded. Conflict entrepreneurs are eager to exploit public misunderstanding of the First Amendment and other laws that regulate free expression for political or economic gain.

And then there’s the practice of ostracizing, boycotting, shaming, or shunning people who have acted or spoken in an unacceptable manner. It’s sometimes called ‘cancel culture.’ Public opinion research shows that some American adults believe that both content moderation and cancel culture are a form of censorship.

It is important to unpack the essential differences and similarities between content moderation, cancel culture, and censorship by using engaging instructional practices that are effective with adult learners of all ages.

Censorship, as the suppression or prohibition of speech or other communication, can be conducted by state actors (like governments, schools, and public libraries) as well as private companies (like Facebook, Twitter and Google).

As non-state actors, social media platforms are free to make editorial decisions and develop their own community standards. Labeling content, fact-checking, and demonetization do not amount to censorship because private companies are protected from governmental intrusion. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act further protects platforms who voluntarily act in good faith to restrict access to objectionable material.

Public confusion about censorship and content moderation have led to calls for platforms to include the voices of Holocaust deniers, conspiracy theorists, and many different types of disinformation. It's important for librarians to help people develop a solid understanding of censorship, content moderation, and cancel culture in public discourse today.


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