The Danger of Censorship and the Oppression of Freedom of Speech in Today’s Society

by Isla Sligo-Young

Recently, certain members of the generation now at university have acted in such a way that young people now reaching adulthood have been dubbed the ‘Snowflake Generation’. In part, this name derives from members of the generation who feel extremely threatened when they hear views and beliefs that oppose their own, which has led to university campuses having to have an elongated list of people and groups who are no longer allowed to conduct speeches.

I am very careful in my description of certain members of a generation, rather than suggesting that the whole generation holds these viewpoints. This is because we are at a turbulent time in history, a period of unforeseen change; for example, the Government being defeated on three votes in the last day has been seismic, bringing a measure of uncertainty and fear into our society. This fear creates the perfect breeding ground for views that are normally those of a minority to be able to take control and try to restore some type of order in this world of chaos by silencing an opposition that may make them question their views.  

This censorship of those with a right to express their views is potentially very dangerous because whichever group has control of government/society at any given time can further impose their power over the people by deciding whose speech is classed as offensive. This was showcased at the start of the Communist Revolution in Russia just over 100 years ago: the day after the Bolsheviks took control of Petrograd and the government, Bourgeois papers and counterrevolutionary publications were banned from publication. This ultimately led to complete censorship of every part of Soviet life, even how people talked to one another- ultimately leading to death for those who did not agree with the ideology imposed by the government. This is poignantly reflected, today, in the multitude of death threats received by activist who do not follow the ideology of today’s society, which is predominantly left-wing.

For example, Julie Bindel, who is dubbed a controversial ‘extreme Feminist’, believes that changing genders is a result of people not wanting to challenge the expectations of their genders. In 2016, Bindel talked at PGS about her views and ideology. There must have been people in the audience that disagreed with her ideas. However, by stimulating debate she may have caused some members of the audience to question their own beliefs, consolidate their ideas or further develop their opinions for or against her ideology. All these important aspects of questioning originate from a character who is now labelled ‘transphobic’ and has been banned from talking at many venues including Manchester University.

Finally returning to Soviet Russia, George Orwell said that ‘If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.’  This perfectly summarises the importance of free speech within our society, as freedom is first removed by the absence of the ability to question, but also power is cemented by choosing who is definitively right and wrong .