“They can’t censor the gleam in my eye.” — Charles Laughton
A good child is seen but not heard.
Many of us were raised on this idea. The premise is that adults know better than children so children should just be quiet and listen.
The internet was created for freedom of expression and sharing of ideas. We have seen this vision diminish over the past few years as governments, politicians, and companies work to control the narrative. This is very prevalent in dictatorial countries like China, Burma, Iran, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.
This is more problematic in Western democracies where they purport to support freedoms but censorship has become increasingly prevalent. Those controlling the messaging may have proclaimed small victories in their efforts to promote their self-interests under the guise of good governance.
Yet all this has done has driven a greater divide in society. Instead of people discussing and debating on a single platform like Facebook, millions fled to alternative sites where they felt they were able to speak more openly.
There has been a recent issue of censorship which has a different resonance.
Unlike the past few years where the majority of censorship has targeted adults, this incident is specifically going after youth.
This won’t only fail, it will create a ticking time bomb.
A letter from Osama bin Laden came out in 2002, a year after the attacks in New York City.
The letter has recently been making the rounds on social media, most prevalently on TikTok. TikTok is already under scrutiny as it is China-owned. Western politicians have been calling to ban it as a security threat to their countries.
Most adults spend no time on TikTok as we grew up with Facebook. But young people spend their time on TikTok as well as YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat. They have categorically rejected all mainstream news: CNN, Fox, BBC, Sydney Morning Herald, and The Times.
The issue with the letter is complex. It is a highly sensitive and charged topic. We are once again being forced to take a side. Like almost every issue, there are more than two sides to this problem.
We are in a generational divide. This isn’t good or bad. It just is. There are many theories and reasons as to why. It doesn’t matter. What is important is understanding this shift.
If governments want to shut down TikTok or push for increased censorship, this may create one of the greatest social movements in history and this will reverberate around the world.
This generation of young people is different. They don’t buy our lies and they don’t buy our truths. They don’t trust us. And rightfully so.
TikTok getting banned or being highly censored would be catastrophic. We saw this when governments and corporations censored views on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter that went against their beliefs and interests. These short-term wins for some have now resulted in fundamental losses.
Young people don’t engage with our adult news. The news has been a problem for too long as all media is biased but we allow the propaganda to flow into our homes. As long as the voices support our narrative, we are content to dwell in our echo chambers.
Young people see the world with truer eyes. They aren’t trying to protect their retirement savings or pensions. They’ve seen the lies we have told them about the promised land after getting a college degree as they see adults are unhappy.
So when we tell them to follow our lead, they just smile and whisper a hushed expletive. Now keep in mind, young people aren’t as smart as they think they are but much smarter than we give them credit for.
We were exactly the same. The difference today is they have access to perfect information. We can tell them we know more because we have been around for fifty years. But they just look at us with blank stares, tap their screens, and show us in an instant what took us decades to memorize.
We are witnessing a shift, one brought on by the promises of technology. Technology was created to make our lives easier and bring us together. It has failed at both.
Technology could now be part of connecting humanity. But if we shut down certain channels, the divides will only increase.
Whatever we feel about current events, we need to keep an open mind.
We should all be spending more time on TikTok. We should be listening to these young voices and working to understand their concerns. We don’t need to agree but we need to be learning from them. We should not be offended when they reference a historical letter from a madman just as we should not be offended when people reference sources from Hitler, McCarthy, Idi Amin, Stalin, Manson, or David Duke.
Many were not alive when the attacks happened. We can share and discuss. Just as we share and discuss all monsters from history. Sadly, all the comments about the letter on TikTok have been removed. Now these young people are left to speak among themselves and find answers on their own.
Alfred Griswold, the former president of Yale and an educator and historian said:
“In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only sure weapon against bad ideas is better ideas.”
He understood the issues with censoring voices, particularly youth.
Tick. Tok. Tick. Tok.
Chris Thompson was the former Director of Green School and co-founder of The Bridge