Since Nov. 28, mass protests across the country of France have been the topic of many news articles and international headlines. Currently, demonstrators are protesting against the ratification of a new global security law that prohibits the filming and identifying of police officers online. Protesters believe that this new law will prohibit justice in police brutality cases. While it may be seen by the French government as a way to protect officers, it is undoubtedly a form of censorship, which is heavily debated as social media becomes increasingly centered in our lives.
Throughout the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, social media usage skyrocketed among teens and adults. It became the second-most common digital activity while the stay at home orders were in place. This can be linked to the Black Lives Matter protests that erupted in May and June, starting with a video recording of police in Minneapolis murdering George Floyd. This video led to activism across social media platforms. Other videos were released that demonstrated other instances of police brutality and unjust actions, such as the shootings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. These murders led to the circulation of multiple hashtags, like #JusticeForAhmaud and #IStandWithBre. If these actions were not posted online, the world may have been almost completely unaware of the atrocities that took place. While the protests that followed the video did not solve all the problems surrounding the issue of police brutality and racism, they were definitely a step in the right direction. If laws like the global security law in France are ratified, this will halt the spread of knowledge and keep people from supporting just causes. Although it may seem minor, social media activism is very important and preventing it is a form of censorship.
Social media activism is one of the most important forms of protest in current times. It is the easiest way to provide information and engage people of all backgrounds in fighting for a common cause. According to one survey by the Pew Research Center, around half of Americans participated in social media activism or had been civically active online in 2018. In continuation, social media activism is a good outlet for people who want to be involved in systemic change but cannot participate physically. The Pew Research Center also found that two-thirds of Americans believe social media has helped grant a voice to underrepresented groups and has helped shine a light on issues that are sometimes overlooked by politicians. In other words, social media is how most people exercise their civil liberties, such as speaking out against unfair laws and practices or unjust politicians and leaders.
If a country stops the spread of information, like preventing videos of police brutality from being posted online, we will be unaware of these unfair practices. We would be unable to practice our civil liberties, and giant leaps in social justice would be delayed or prevented entirely. Although it may seem unimportant compared to the other major examples of censorship in our society, stopping videos that may contain problematic police work from airing online is clearly very damaging to society. Cutting off this source of information could prevent justice from being sought out. The families of the victims would never know what truly happened to their loved ones, and they wouldn’t be able to seek out the judicial proceedings that could further prevent crimes like this from happening again. Banning these videos would also further obscure and perpetuate police violence since the police would no longer be held accountable for their actions by the public. Would we even know about the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Aubery if reports were not released of their encounters with the police? How would we practice our constitutionally granted rights to free speech and protest if the government prevents us from seeing the atrocities our law enforcement agencies may be committing?
Censorship by the government, or the suppression of information that may be seen as offensive, is considered unconstitutional in the United States. But we still see acts like this all the time. What is happening in France is very dangerous, and although it may seem minor right now, it can spiral. We, as citizens, must be able to hold our lawmakers, law enforcement and ourselves accountable. If our main way of sharing this information is blockaded, then change will never happen.
Nicolette Cavallaro is a sophomore majoring in integrative neuroscience.