In the early 1940s during World War 2, a world renowned rock-'n-roll guitarist named Woody Guthrie mustered up the courage to paint a slogan on his guitar, that would forever change the way we view the world and influence many people's views on the subject of free speech. After the publishing of one of his wartime songs, Guthrie painted “THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS” onto his guitar. But Why Would He? Guthrie believed that the battle Freedom of Speech and Censorship was more important than the war between Good and Evil itself. Enough history, why is this viewpoint relevant to society today?

This post is different, I recently downloaded a videogame I remembered playing from several years ago, called Return To Castle Wolfenstein. It's considered to be cult classic game, but I learned it was banned to own or sell in Germany and a couple other countries, due to it's use of the Nazi Swastika. This got me thinking on the topic of censorship as it relates to the world we live in, why hackers should care, and how we can tackle this issue.

What Is Censorship?

Censorship comes from the root word censor, which means “to examin in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable” (definition courtesy of Merriam-Webster Dictionary). Due to the breadth of this definition, this means that NOT ONLY GOVERNMENTS can censor a society- society can censor themselves. An example of government-forced censorship would be the banning of books (such as how several countries ban the Bible or other books deemed “sacred”) or the blocking of websites in a specific region. Society-induced censorship examples could be calling people “haters” for having alternative opinions and the creation of hate speech, intentionally disregarding any alternative opinion.

Why Does Freedom Of Speech Matter?

If one is familiar with Orwellian novels or history from actual oppressive regimes such as Mussolini or Stalin, one common idea is always shared. This is the mindset of group-think, and getting society as a whole to think the same way as a like-minded whole. Hitler managed to brainwash an entire society into the hatred of the Jewish population, and all the others did similar things.

If we wish to prevent this oppressive fate, society must protect and encourage the ability to think for themselves- even if they don't wish to.

How Does This Tie Into Technology?

The Internet was formerly the ARPAnet project, a system to interconnect Universities for the purpose of enabling schools and students to better share ideas and work. It would eventually morph into the Internet which saw a massive increase in size and sharing of information, and still remains the largest source for information available to the human race. When hackers started traversing the wires and breaking into systems, the US Government promised security and began an absurd pattern of arrests and lawsuits.

The DMCA act was introduced, effectively allowing the creator of a copyrighted work to legally compel the removal of information from the internet, which resulted in numerous creative works being either deleted or removed. The NSA, FBI and CIA began an all-out assault against encryption, and are still trying to make encryption illegal, although privacy is a protected human right in the United States. Movie and record companies introduced Digital Rights Management (DRM), making it harder than ever to share derivative, creative works based on famous clips of audio/video. Human and Animal Rights Activists all around the globe started labeling people “haters” if they didn't entirely agree with their ideologies. Code of Conduct terms were introduced in numerous public domain projects to prevent people from speaking their mind. The list of these offenses goes on and on, all of them unexcusable offenses for those who claim to be guardians of free speech.


On Fascism

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, the words Fascism and Fascist come from the Italian root word fascio, or group. The term fascista was used to talk about the members of Mussolini's political organization, named Fasci di combattimento (combat groups). These “combat groups” adopted a bundle of rods with an ax as their insignia and wore black shirts, and became a symbol of complete and utter servitude to their government's authority. As this group was a “combat group” by nature, they would always disregard anyone else's opinions but their own, to the point of mass genocide in Italy.

Thus, a fascist is someone who violently opposes the free sharing of information and are completely subservient to some authority figure. One could easily argue that the modern bipartisan political system in the United States has encouraged such behavior on both sides, for both Republicans and Democrats, Right and Left. On the Right, we have pro-gun citizens who believe it's their God-given right to protect their land and often join militia groups to oppose anyone who disagrees. On the Left, we are seeing groups such as Antifa who are taking it upon themselves to destroy anyone or anything that questions the Black Lives Matter movement in the slightest.

This Isn't About Race Or Political Beliefs

If we were to ask the entire US population, around 90-93% of all people would agree that racism, corrupt politicians, and unethical companies are all bad things worth opposing. So why on earth are people becoming more and more divided? There are a few possible answers, neither of which are pleasant to think about:

Whatever option is picked, the problem is clear as day: It's not about race, spending, political beliefs, global warming deniers, and so on. It's about giving opposing views the light of day in order to refine each other's view of the truth.

How Does This Apply To Tech Enthusiasts?

This arbitrarily imposed limitation on what techies can say and do effectively speaks death to their creativity. For example, the Linux kernel had a significant reputation for it's owner (Linus Torvalds) being very brash and offensive at the sight of poorly written code. He openly admitted several times that he was such, and has a zero tolerance policy for poorly written code in his project. As a political push, the Linux Kernel was forced to adopt a Code of Conduct with the reason being due to Torvald's (and others) behavior. With this code of conduct being extremely overreaching and taking control out of the owner's hands, it's become significantly harder to ensure the quality and openness of Linux. Other Open Source projects have seen this happen to them, and the quality of their code has greatly diminished while the quality of ones that haven't are greatly increased. For example, OpenBSD actively refuses to adopt a Code of Conduct, and they retain this “asshole-ish” behavior towards authors of bad code with the view that incompetence shouldn't be rewarded. Unsurprisingly, OpenBSD is widely seen as one of the most secure and reliable Operating Systems on Planet Earth.

This begs a huge question: If forcing people to speak a certain way results in reduced quality due to lack of involvement, should people be allowed to speak completely freely? For the sake of designing quality software and hardware that's meant to be used and perfected, the last thing that's needed is a set of rules to slow down the smartest people from expressing their ideas. The question ought to be posed as a moral question, asking whether or not it's an acceptable solution to use authority to force people to agree with others, even if they don't. Wouldn't it be much easier to just let someone hurt their own reputation if they wish to behave unprofessionally?

A Potential Solution

After a bit of a test run, it seems as though allowing free and unfettered speech in a ~400 member chat server seems to work extremely well, provided a system is designed to encourage real discussion about even the hardest topics. For example, reminding people that they have their own reputation to uphold is huge (Some communities might opt to make use of a rule where a member can be removed forcibly through popular vote, where no vote counts as a vote against removal) and other things.

It's incredibly sad to see the academic and scientific world decay in this way, so it's a moral duty for hackers and tech enthusiasts to protect and retain the quality of information and projects, no matter the cost.

That's it, rant over. Back to your regularly scheduled program... :)

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