Intellectual Freedom in the News: Net Neutrality Rollbacks & Banned Words

“Diversity. Entitlement. Evidence-Based. Fetus. Science-Based. Transgender. Vulnerable.”


Over the weekend, reports have been rolling in about a list of words that the Trump administration wanted removed and banned from official reports and documents. The Washington Post reported the list of seven words listed above that have been banned from Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports, and reporting from The Hill yesterday detailed how the ban had been in motion in other areas of the Department of Health and Human Services earlier this year. These words are often present in discourses that are marginalized, and this move to censor these words from official documents marks a very specific effort to avoid certain conversations in relation to health policy in the United States. 

This move cannot be seen in isolation, as the reporting on these  words occurring as the Federal Communications Commission voted to roll back net neutrality regulations, it might have been easy to miss. The FCC vote might have devastating implications for the access for all of us, with the deregulation leading to potentially slower, less secure connections and higher costs. Interestingly, this piece from Mic also lists the potential implications for internet access to vulnerable populations. While there are many unknown aspects of what will happen in the wake of this deregulation, many of these implications are cause for significant worry. 

But this list of banned words also has many implications for us as information professionals and the communities we serve. We have rallied around the issue of banned books historically, as a way to fight the erasure of viewpoints and identities from within our schools and library collections. We should also make sure to be aware of the ways that particular words are being erased, and ensure that we continue their use and representations in our libraries and collections. Using these words reiterates our commitment to making sure our communities are represented in our collections, and that we can provide access to all viewpoints to patrons.

So as a librarian, I will continue to select works that represent the diversity of our communities, particularly around vulnerable populations, works that expose and grapple with entitlement, and around issues of racial diversity and diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity, like transgender identities. I will strive to ensure access to multiple viewpoints including evidence-based and science-based works, especially in health-related topics that can be controversial like the status of a fetus in discussions of pro-life and pro-choice dialogues. The point is not to promote particular viewpoints by using these words, but rather to make sure that these words are used, and that they continue to be used to promote many viewpoints for patrons.

As an academic, I will continue to use these words, as I have here, to make sure they are not erased or do not erase these conversations.

Information professionals and librarians help to make sure individuals and communities have access to information. For me, this has to include a commitment to maintaining ways to talk about and represent the diverse perspectives that circulate in the infosphere and diverse identities that exist within society.

In 2018, I hope to see more discussions that include: “Diversity. Entitlement. Evidence-Based. Fetus. Science-Based. Transgender. Vulnerable.”

3 replies

  1. “Entitlement” in the context of CDC’s work refers to Medicare, SNAP, Medicaid, Social Security, the VA, & unemployment compensation–see https://www.senate.gov/reference/glossary_term/entitlement.htm for a definition of the term. One could “expose” plans to cut said entitlements, and one could “grapple” with the question of how librarians can best serve people experiencing poverty, disease, and starvation due to federal cutbacks. However, furthering the misunderstanding that a federal entitlement is a GOP member with an attitude is *not* the best path to pursue.

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    • Nancy, thank you for your feedback. Personally, I don’t see the idea of federal entitlement as only GOP problem, and this piece does not state that. Moreover, I am, and this piece, is more concerned with the censorship of that word as resulting from a desire to try and dissuade conversations around entitlement. I certainly agree that librarians can do all of the things that you have listed above, and appreciate the engagement with the issue.

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