September 18, 2020

The Inflationary Theory of Censorship

China’s recent decision to block its citizens’ access to Google has been much discussed. Google does not itself offer “subversive” content, so the goal must have been to keep people from finding “subversive” content from elsewhere.

This illustrates a general truth about attempts to censor general-purpose communication technologies like the Net. These technologies are so flexible that no limited censorship campaign can work. People will find a way to get the information through. Assuming the censors don’t just give up, their only recourse is to censor more material, to protect the flanks of their previous censorship attempts.

But expanding the censorship just invites the same kind of countermeasure, and still more censorship becomes “necessary.” The cycle repeats itself indefinitely. On-line censorship must keep expanding, or it will die.