Despite the title, I know that not all censorship boosts communication. Repression and violence coupled with censorship can prevent a message from getting out. Nevertheless, it strikes me that censorship attempts in a free (or at least semi-free) society usually backfire.

Thanks to Learning with ‘e’s for pointing this one out.

A Scottish local authority thought a 9-year-old’s blog was making them look bad, and tried to shut her down. The result: her blog has now registered nearly 4 million hits, which means that a ton more people know how bad the food in her school is than otherwise would have.

It remains to be seen how this will play out. The last post on NeverSeconds says she has been told she can’t post any more photos of the food from her school cafeteria. For clarity, the decision came not from the school, but from the town council (if I’m using the right term).

On the other hand, the BBC reports that the decision has been reversed in the wake of really, really bad PR.

Martha Payne, a 9-year-old, had been taking photos of her cafeteria food, rating it, and posting it on her blog. She was using the blog as a way to raise money for Mary’s Meals, “an international movement that sets up school feeding projects in communities where poverty and hunger prevent children from gaining an education.”

Also for clarity, I have to point out that I’ve looked over the blog, and though I haven’t read every word, I really can’t see where she’s calling any of the food bad! Many of the meals she rates at either 9/10, and 10/10 isn’t unseen. Most of the food criticism seems to come from other people talking about their own school’s food. I have to conclude that the very idea of rating the food and exposing it to the outside world was threatening enough to lead the council to try to address the perceived problem not by improving the food, but by attempting to stop her from talking about it.

That was just wrong. Experience also shows it’s not smart.

It’s always better to let the communication flow. If you think someone is spreading inaccurate information, attempting to stop it will just make it flourish. Your time and effort is better spent on crafting your own messages rather than trying to prevent someone else’s. Though Martha says, “I only write my blog not newspapers and I am sad I am no longer allowed to take photos,” her experience addresses press freedom as much as any case. Freedom of press is not about corporate ownership or size or anything else of that sort. Who gets to determine the legitimate press? The government? Do we really want to open that can of worms?

Update: as I was getting set to hit the “Publish” button, a new post went up on Martha’s blog indicating that she has, indeed, been given the green light to continue photographing, writing, and posting. The council apparently inadvertently did a favor, since the resulting publicity has helped to raise money for Mary’s Meals! That would mean more if that had been their intention, but it’s a good outcome nonetheless.

Share this, please!