Censorship is very much on the minds of attendees at this year's Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Istanbul. One reason, of course, is because the meeting is being held in a country that has censored the Web. Earlier this year the Turkish government blocked Twitter and YouTube for awhile and continues to block thousands of websites, including some that reportedly have content that goes against government ideology.
But you don't have to live in Turkey, Russia, China or Iran to be affected by censorship. Young people in every country -- including the United States, the United Kingdom and throughout Europe -- face it every day.
Two hundred and twenty-three years after the U.S. passed the First Amendment to its constitution, kids are being censored online in school, in some libraries and in some homes. The stated reason for this censorship is to protect them from "harmful content," but it's not just a matter of blocking porn, hate sites or sites that promote self-harm. Many schools in the U.S., UK and Europe block social media sites, for example, even though Facebook and most other responsible sites have their own policies against so-called harmful content.
Here at IGF, a number of speakers have advocated protecting children from such content for their own good, yet hardly any kids I've spoken with think Internet filtering is either appropriate or effective, except for young children.
Olivia, a 15-year-old attendee from Denmark, made the point better than I can at a session here in Istanbul:
"This is our world, the Internet we're talking about here. You have to be with us in the world. You can't keep us away from it. You have to talk with us about it.... You have to help your children instead of trying to control them." (Quote courtesy of NetFamilyNews.org)
The folks in that workshop applauded that comment but it didn't stop several adults at various sessions from advocating more controls over the types of materials that young people can access.
I didn't get his name, but one attendee from the Turkish government spoke proudly about how his country was blocking "content that is harmful for children," but he never defined what he meant by harmful content.