Zach Davis

The Internet is a wonderful, useful tool that has pervaded American life. Almost everybody uses the Internet one way or another. It offers fast and easy communication from your own home, a way to shop on Black Friday and a way to look up information that you need right away. The internet isn’t very regulated in most of the Western world like it is in places such as Saudi Arabia, but that might not be the case for long in the United States.

President-elect Donald Trump’s position on the Internet isn’t very friendly to open communication. In fact, he wants to impose harsher regulations. He said in a 2015 debate that we, along with Bill Gates, should consider “closing that Internet up in some way.” Trump wants to reduce the amount of recruiting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria can do. Supposedly the media makes terrorism sound cool to children, causing them to go off and fight with ISIS, but even though Trump seems to have a nice goal, his suggestion is questionable at best.

Restricting the Internet isn’t a productive way to stop ISIS. First, media doesn’t glorify ISIS. In fact, simply typing “ISIS” into Google brings up a page filled with articles that make ISIS look bad. There are several articles about the organization brainwashing and killing people on the first page alone. The second page contains information about their military strikes, and one article even insists there will be many more attacks in the future. None of these articles make ISIS look cool, especially if you live in a country that ISIS has attacked. If the media isn’t showing ISIS in a positive light then Trump’s entire reason to restrict the internet falls through.

Let’s say, though, that Trump’s reason is legitimate and the media makes ISIS out to be some kind of hero. It wouldn’t matter. In the US, we have freedom of speech and press guaranteed to us by the First Amendment, so that is their prerogative, assuming it doesn’t cause harm to anybody.

Unfortunately, Trump has already said that the people who are concerned about their free speech are “foolish” for their worries. But he is wrong with that statement. They are no more foolish than Trump was during his campaign when he insisted he was being silenced. Everybody has a right to be heard, even the press, and closing off the Internet could silence some people, especially if it is in retaliation to a group of people using their First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

When freedom of speech is restricted as well as the press, then so is our information. The Internet is meant to be a place where information can be quickly and easily shared around the world. As it stands right now I can do something as simple as communicate with someone in Europe and share pictures of my dog, or I could go to school to get a job. I could even look up ways to keep myself safe in several situations, such as an ISIS attack. Restricting the internet only makes communication harder, forcing people into using things like mail and encyclopedias, which is nowhere near as fast or easy as the Internet.

Restricting free speech and information is always a bad combination that leads to censorship. We have seen many examples of this in the world, past and present. For example, the Soviet Union was very hard on media restrictions in the early 1900s. Before Joseph Stalin became ruler of the Soviet Union several forms of media had regulations that were already in place, some which were very reasonable. Stalin used these preexisting regulations to censor the media completely. He simply exaggerated their use and added some small details to effectively silence his opposition. Books about the US were edited to only permit the worst parts of American life to make us seem more miserable, meaning the Soviet people didn’t have a proper understanding of American life. The censorship was so bad that speaking out against Stalin or his views – even his taste in music or food - could cause someone to disappear forever.

And no good censorship article can be written without mentioning the Nazis in World War II. Hitler took office by scapegoating Jewish people for all of Germany’s problems, and didn’t allow much information to be spread suggesting otherwise. He was a master of propaganda, which he used to further his agenda and push his views onto the German people. He was so good that he was able to make the concentration camps seem like they would be nice and cozy by releasing ads such as Jewish children playing in one. He kept all reports of what actually happened in the concentration camps silenced so that nobody would fight the Nazi soldiers on their way to the camps.

These examples of censorship are terrifying, and that is where we could be heading if we start restricting free speech and information. The Internet is a place to communicate information freely, and that is how it needs to stay. We need to take these past examples of treacherous leaders and learn from them. We don’t want to be like the people who killed millions of people just because of a bias; we want to be a country where people can say what they want and share information without fearing for their life.