Freedom of speech and the right to express one’s opinion is a right in the United States that many people take for granted. When we log onto our preferred social media platform, there is usually at least one person bemoaning their freedom being taken from them when another criticizes their view or simply removes it from a personal thread if the originator feels that it is offensive. These instances are snapshots of how little some people understand about what losing one’s freedom of speech actually means. Looking toward countries such as Vietnam and China, where social media is restricted or blocked by the respective governments, we truly see how detrimental censorship can be. More so, we should understand from these political contexts that when the government says, “You cannot see this,” it is usually a precursor to producing political propaganda that makes people believe that something is the “only truth.”
According to the Human Rights Watch, the Vietnamese government has a history of restricting freedom of speech, as well as other freedoms that we recognize as our First Amendment rights. In 2016, HRW reported that “at least 19 bloggers and activists were put on trial and convicted” in the first nine months of the year. While we consider that degree of censorship unfathomable, the people who were convicted live in that reality on a daily basis, as they fight to have their voices heard. Additionally, it becomes apparent to those looking in on the situation that when censorship occurs, the government in question not only fails its people by refusing to let them express opinions, but also distorts the public’s view on controversial matters.
Comparing the circumstances in Vietnam — or any other communist nation — to how life once was in Nazi Germany is often derided as an alarmist’s approach. However, the parallels when we analyze these two types of government are oftentimes startling. While blocking social platforms or arresting citizens is not indicative of genocide, there exists the chance that the scales will tip in the wrong direction. After all, who assumed the worst when Joseph Goebbels, the director of the Nazi Propaganda Ministry, took control of all media forms that were, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, considered “in any way threatening to Nazi beliefs or to the regime”? HRW acknowledges that the same mentality is embraced by the Vietnamese government, which justifies censorship by saying that dissent is “abusing the rights to democracy and freedom to infringe upon the interests of the state.”
The “anything goes” nature of the internet exists for a reason; policing it would infringe upon our own abilities to distinguish what is true and “allowed,” with the sole purpose of deceiving others. More so, whenever we log onto a platform, we should be able to choose what we publish. Along with that choice comes the understanding that if we post something hateful or vitriolic — which is a commonplace occurrence — there are methods of moderation and these are not inherently implemented to limit our speech. Rather, they ensure the safety of others without prosecuting the perpetrator, as we see done in other countries.