Self Censorship

Written by on
As I'm sure you're aware, there has been a lot of discussion about Google's decision to stop censoring search results in China. I'm not really going to opine much on the decision, but will basically leave it at this: With all the financial madness going on, two wars still happening in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who knows what else is being dealt with that we don't know about, it's fair to say I believe there is a larger context that we should be aware of when having the discussion.

This has had be thinking about the ways in which we censor ourselves.

A couple weeks ago I wrote about how awesome I thought Google translate was, and played around with it a little bit since then. I realized that in order to really get results in a different language I had to take a few steps. I first searched for 'Financial Corruption' and translated it into Chinese. I put that into Google, and a bunch of US sites came up. I realized, I probably had to go turn some setting on. Indeed, you go to Settings -> Search Settings and the default is English. Once I selected Chinese and searched again I was on my way.

Even if you go to, and input english, you are of course more likely to get an American site - but certainly an English speaking one. Google "Financial Corruption" in English on, and you get pretty much the same search results as if you search for it on in English. But, if you go to (or with your language setting properly turned on) and search for 金融腐败, the Chinese translation for "Financial Corruption", and then take that url string and put it into Google Translate, you get an entirely different set of results. There are more efficient ways, but I wanted to link everything assuming that most readers had english turned on as their only language.

My point here is that while, yes, it is very bad that the Chinese government censors the internet, it would do us well to, for a moment, take a look in the mirror.

I don't regularly search for news about the Greek soverign debt crisis in any European languages, though surely there's a valuable and worthwhile perspective written by someone who speaks a language other than English. Nor have I read the take that the French or the Germans have on the new healthcare legislation that was just passed.

As powerful and far reaching as the internet is, almost all of us are looking at just one tiny slice of it. It's great that we're talking about the internet, and freedom, and censorship, and the impact that it's having, and will continue to have, on governments. These are important conversations.

What we should also be talking about though, is how we're censoring ourselves.