The value of censorship: Australia vs China

By EMMA RYAN:

‘It’s like a drug… I know it’s bad for me but I keep going back for more”.
– Taylor Harris, on her social media usage.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the Australian youth are obsessed with social media. Addictive, antagonizing and easily accessible, it is sites such as Facebook and Twitter where those aged 13-25 feel comfortable to express themselves to the world.

When Taylor was a teenager, she was not aware of what impact this expression would have on her self-esteem until it was too late.
“I was assaulted by someone much older than me and took to Facebook as a way to share my side of the story”, she said.
“But after doing that I received huge backlash. My own friends didn’t believe me. No one did. I was tormented and called a liar by people who were meant to have my back. It destroyed me.”

Unfortunately, Taylor is not alone. She is joined by over a quarter of young Australian adults who have experienced cyber bullying due to their involvement with social media sites.
Of this quarter, half have stated their usage of social media has contributed to serious mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. This begs the question on whether access to social media is a good idea, or should it be censored to the public?
China seems to think so.

Despite having more Internet users than most countries have people, China is under intense censorship laws that disapprove the usage of social media sites. Their strict bans are set by the Chinese Communist Party that prohibits any content deemed politically sensitive or offensive. Facebook, Twitter and YoutTube are just three of the 2600 websites blocked by a system called GreatFirewall, which was installed by the government to gain control over what information was projected to the citizens of China.

China is believed to be "left in the dark" with censorship laws. Flickr user: IsaacMao, April 18 2005.

China is believed to be “left in the dark” with censorship laws.
Flickr user: IsaacMao, April 18 2005.

In 2005, the consequences of breaking these laws were shown after chief correspondent for Singapore’s Strait Times, Ching Cheong, collected a series of secret interviews with a former communist leader and aimed to publish them online. Before he could however, Cheong was defamed, arrested and ordered to spend five years in prison. This proves the government will stop at nothing to dominate the Internet and not let anyone they believe is a threat to post online. In comparison, the amount of times those living in Australia have been seen blasting the Prime Minister or certain policies and regulations is endless.

As the generation of young Australian adults today have grown up with the introduction of the Internet, and the introduction of social media, it is difficult for them to comprehend the censorship laws seen in China. However these very laws may be the reason as to why China has a far lower percentage of young adults reporting serious mental health issues. After all, it is with censorship that ultimately protects the Chinese people from falling victim to online bullying, however it also denies the public’s right to free speech.

Chinese exchange student, Sherry Lee says that the lack of exposure to social media sites have played a part in ensuring positive self-esteem in China’s people.
“When I came to Australia I made a Facebook and Twitter [account] because everyone else has one. I never use it though. It is a waste of time and seems to cause a lot of problems.”

The problems Sherry Lee is referring to include the exposure of pornography and violence, as well as the online abuse a whopping 82% of Australians have reported seeing on social media.

Model, Charlotte Dawson’s suicide in late February this year highlighted the impact online abuse can have on individuals. Dawson was ridiculed to the point where online trolls were telling her to “go hang yourself” along with degrading comments about her appearance and personality. As a spokesperson for anti-bullying campaign Angels Goal, Dawson was unable to ignore the comments and took her own life, with friends citing the main contributor to her deep depression was her inability to overcome the negativity she received on social media.
However, Dawson’s friends are not the only ones who have lost a loved one due to the cyber bullying.

Sophie Miller sits uncomfortably and tears start to well in her eyes as she recalls the day she found out her best friend had passed away.
“Georgia always had a problem with shutting out bad comments made about her. She was bullied by people at our school from Year 7. When she got Facebook, it got worse. People would abuse her over the Internet, call her a slut, or ugly, or fat. She would try to delete and block them so she didn’t have to deal with it but they’d make fake accounts and message her off them. It’s like they enjoyed making her suffer.”
Georgia committed suicide in March last year with her last Facebook status indicating the cyber bullying had become too much.

Dr. Shaunaugh Foy, of Charles Sturt University Bathurst, says Georgia is one of many cases where young adults have been ridiculed on social media to the point where they “do not see the value of their lives anymore”.
She explains the reason young Australian users cannot shut off is because they have been exposed to such a predominant form of communication and one that is used for everything these days.
Although she disagrees with China’s censorship laws on social media, saying the sites banned in China do have their benefits, she believes something needs to be done in order to stop online abuse.
“When someone is abused in person, the consequences for the offender are severe. Those who inflict the abuse of people online should be dealt with the same way. Abuse is abuse regardless of whether it is physical or emotional.”

It is clear why Chinese citizens do not have an issue with cyber bullying. Under the Communist Party’s Central Propaganda Department (CPD), residents are unable to use social media sites therefore online abuse, says Sherry Lee, “is not something that is seen in China”.
However with such a ban, there are bound to be some negatives and Dr. Foy says a key one is that Chinese citizens are left in the dark about important issues.

Due to every piece of publicized information having to go through the government, it is impossible for Chinese citizens to be informed about any wrongdoing within its group of leaders.
News agencies and journalists have little to no say in terms of the content they publish, making China entirely dominated by its government, absent of outside influence.
Dr. Foy explains while there are flaws in Australia’s lack of censorship, in China there is too much to a point where there is no freedom of the press. She says this makes China incredibly corrupt as there is no way real way for citizens to have an opinion, besides the one the government tells them to have.

Vice versa, the lack of censorship laws in Australia mean the general public is presented an array of opinions and stories from a variety of news sources. One only has to look at sites such as Facebook and Twitter to learn the general consensus of a particular topic, the trending stories or the latest news of the day.
Of course, this too has its disadvantages as in Australia anyone can post information regardless of whether or not it is true, or in some cases, derogatory.

In terms of social media, Taylor and Sherry Lee have very different opinions that provide an insight into what effect censorship has on both the Chinese and Australian people.
Sherry Lee firmly states that sites that are banned in her country are “a waste of time anyway”. She is content with certain information being left unexposed and describes her self-esteem as high due to her countries’ censorship of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

On the other hand, Taylor declares she “could not live without social media” despite having such a negative experience using it. She states that without these sites she would not be connected to the world. This raises an interesting point – is China too sheltered from the remainder of society.

When it comes to censorship, the jury is still out. Arguments for both countries state the advantages of censorship laws, or lack there of, with people from either side saying their way is better.
Whether you agree or disagree with the laws, one thing is certain – China appears to have a lower rate of mental health issues due to censorship, but are nowhere as informed as Australia.

 

THUMBNAIL IMAGE: COURTESY OF FLICKR USER ROSAURA OCHOA

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