Who should decide what we read?

For some reason, this week made me start thinking about censorship. Not the type of censorship typically thought of, with a capital C, revolving around the government and its plethora of octopus-type arms, but rather the smaller forms that are rarely recognized. The self-censorship and the people who determine what’s printed for all to see and what doesn’t.

Now, most people can decide on their own there are certain things that shouldn’t be broadcast, whether on Facebook, blogs, etc—and there are news stories about the people who can’t, discussing the nuances of why they said what they did. That’s the type of censorship known as commonsense.

But the one I most want to talk about regards the gatekeepers—whether it is peer-editors, publishers, or whoever might stand between the writer and the market. When Sam talked about some of the finer points of her copywriting position, she mentioned how certain things, down to the word level, simply don’t fly. That seems partially about advertising and having previous knowledge on what can and can’t sell products, but it also relates to how a company wants to appear to whoever might read that piece of copy. Stuff appearing on the website is probably where businesses go automatically, whereas younger people probably find that page through Facebook. The writing manual for social media is probably easier to let certain words or phrases slip through.

I guess what I’ve been thinking about this week though is who has the right to decide what gets said and what doesn’t? Publishers pick and choose books based on whether or not they’ll sell, but that circles back to what people want to hear and what they’ll reject upon reading/listening. But with self-publishing on the rise, fewer people stand between writers and their message. Will people continue to self-censor as much as usual or will not having to ask permission from the gatekeepers reduce the concern people have for what they say?

The comment option on sites like YouTube already demonstrate that people, upon not facing the same consequences since they become just another username, don’t think as much about what they say and will go beyond what they’d probably tell someone to their face.

But, in terms of publishing and not just being allowed to be as mean as you want when critiquing stuff in comments, is this reduced censorship of ideas the way it should be? Or should there be the gatekeepers, preventing certain things from reaching the public?

About Ed Battistella

Edwin Battistella’s latest book Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels was released by Oxford University Press in March of 2020.
This entry was posted in Ideas and Opinions. Bookmark the permalink.