Freedom of Expression and Cultural Production in the Age of Vanishing Privacy

Authored by: Jonathan E. Abel

The Routledge Companion to Literature and Human Rights

Print publication date:  August  2015
Online publication date:  July  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415736411
eBook ISBN: 9781315778372
Adobe ISBN: 9781317696285


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The advent of the internet gave rise to a series of interrelated myths that determine how we will think about censorship and human rights for the foreseeable future. Clichés such as “information wants to be free,” “with instant global access, censorship no longer exists,” and “the market decides what gets sold and read” operate on the assumption that we are in a golden age for freedom of expression and information circulation, distribution, and access. But these apparently new freedoms conflict with traditional rights in particular ways. Simply put, freedom of expression for an individual often conflicts with the freedom to disseminate information of corporate information gatherers. I don’t want all of my GPS data available, you don’t want your notes accessible to all, that celebrity (or that once-silly college student and now-serious job candidate) is horrified to find her private photos are posted on sites all over the net. In today’s net culture, one often-neglected aspect of the freedom of expression has risen in importance – the freedom not to express, the freedom to be silent. And this freedom to be silent is but another name for privacy. Individuals now desperately want to be their own censors, in control of the circulation of their personal data. And yet, time and again, religious organizations, nation-states, and multimedia corporations have continued to assert their privileged positions as monopolistic controllers of their particular media networks, whether through claims that they own the cultural products posted by users on their sites or through the denial of service to particular users. The T-mobile blackout of “sms txtmob” services, which had allowed vast numbers of activists to coordinate around the Republican National Convention in New York City in 2004; the “great firewall” in China; and the shutting down of Twitter in Syria: all of these have become signs that censorship continues today as a major problem of social interaction and political organization (Hirsch and Henry 2005; Stevenson 2007; Reed 2000; Clayton et al. 2006; Baker 2014; Jansen 2010; Chaabane et al. 2014).

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