Internet censorship is a growing problem worldwide. Bloggers, journalists and average internet users are finding it more and more difficult to access the content they seek.
Internet Censorship Around The World
In this age of instant information, you’d think that access would be unlimited. After all, the Internet is only a click away. The sad truth is, many countries around the world seek to limit outside influences and therefor block internet connections and censor content whenever and wherever possible. The good news for most users is that there is VPN to bypass censorship. This article is a look at the top countries currently censoring access to the Internet and ways that you can avoid internet censorship no matter what country you are located in.
At stake is more than just access to what may be considered “objectionable” material. Bloggers, journalists and average citizens are being jailed or worse. According to the Committee To Protect Journalists most of the top censoring countries also top the list of those with the worst records for jailing journalists. More than half of the journalists imprisoned world wide are in jail for “crimes against the state”. China is the top of this list followed by a coalition of Middle Eastern nations which work in conjunction to block any information detrimental to any governments in the region. While political ideology, usually communism, is the most obvious source of censorship it is not limited to this. Religion and specifically Muslim dominated countries are also prominent censors of “subversive” material.
Top 10 Countries with the Most Heavily Censored Internet:
10. Myanmar (Burma)
A Southeast Asian nation, Myanmar (formerly Burma), also actively blocks websites that uncover human rights violations and/or disagree with the official government. The country also filters through emails, social media and all other forms of web-based communications in order to block dissident activity in the country. Internet cafes are required to keep records of users and activity, and make those records available to police on request. Taking it a step further Myanmar has also outlawed methods used to avoid internet censorship such as VPN and others. Restrictions have been reduced in recent years but violators may still find themselves fined or imprisoned.
The communist party of Vietnam allows its citizens to access common web sites such as Yahoo, Google and Microsoft’s MSN providing those sites give up the names of all bloggers using their services. In addition, they block any websites critical of the government or communism and any sites which advocate for human rights, freedom and democracy. Oddly enough, the country uses a vague law against “abusing democratic freedom” as the basis for blocking and jailing journalists. The government also uses harassment techniques to prevent known bloggers from attending and reporting on events.
Tunisia is more interested in blocking bloggers from uploading content than it is in preventing its citizens from viewing “subversive” materials. Less than 40% of all inhabitants have access to the Web, and those that do are often restricted to internet cafes due to cost. Internet providers must report all bloggers to the government including their names, personal information and addresses. All connections are routed through a central server point where content is filtered and emails are monitored. Bloggers and reporters caught “defaming” the government or military are often jailed. There have been advances made in the past few years, opening up freedom of the Internet, but many hurdles remain.
Syria controls the Internet with tactics reminiscent of secret police activity in the former Iron Curtain countries. Internet cafes must register users, log in the time they were there and report all activity to government officials. Anyone caught “endangering the national security” are arrested and often executed. From time to time access to the Internet is cut off completely, as happened in 2011, nearly a dozen times in 2013/2014. The country has been on the Reporters Without Borders “Enemy Of The Internet” list since it was founded in 2006 and the Committee to Protect Journalists has ranked it among the top ten worst places to be a blogger since 2009. As an added bonus, journalists are also endangered by ISIS, which has beheaded journalists creating content, seen as counter to their beliefs. Learn more about internet censorship in Syria.
Iran is another top censor based on religious and political belief. Access to the Internet is available throughout the country but bloggers, website owners and web-masters must register with the Ministry of Art and Culture. Any who post material critical of the government or contrary to the mullahs are persecuted and jailed, or worse. In addition to this millions of sites are blocked and arrests are common. At least 30 journalists are currently imprisoned and the government is suspected of setting up fake sites for the purpose of surveillance and capture of suspected dissidents. Threats are not limited to the journalists and bloggers themselves. Family members are also threatened with jail, the loss of jobs and pensions and other penalties.
5. Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is one of the top countries censoring the Internet due to religious belief. The country has blocked nearly a half million websites that include content containing material counter to Islamic beliefs including political, social and religion. A series of laws enacted by the ruling family starting with the Royal Decree On Press And Publications and including the Basic Law Of Governance prohibit acts that may lead to division and disorder, affect the security of the nation or undermine human rights and dignity. All internet traffic is routed through a central point and monitored by the Ministry of the Interior. The Internet Service Unit (ISU) is responsible for maintaining list of blocked websites and as of 2011 all bloggers and digital news sources must obtain a special license from the Ministry of Culture and Information. The maximum punishment in Saudi Arabia is 5 years in prison which has had the affect of increasing “self censorship” by Saudi nationals and reporters.
Ethiopia is an African nation high on the list of internet censorship. The country passed an anti-terrorism law in 2009 that seeks to prevent the passage of any information seen as encouraging or supportive of anti-government groups. There is little evidence of social media censorship, activities focused on filtering subversive political content and VOIP, but it cannot be ruled out. Although there are efforts being made to improve internet access throughout the country the going is slow because of the governments monopoly on the industry. As of 2015 less then 4% of the population was reported to have access, mostly through internet cafes and primarily in the capital city of Addis Abbaba.
Another African nation Eritrea reached the top spot in regards to oppression of journalists. The country’s President Isaias Afewerki has cracked down on journalism so hard that even members of the state owned press operate in fear of imprisonment. The last independent news reporter was expelled in 2007. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists it was the top jailer of media professionals in Africa for 2015, imprisoning nearly 2 dozen without official charges. The country does not allow mobile internet access, only slow dial up service, preventing the free flow information to its citizens. It is estimated that only about 7% of the population even has a cell phone, only 1% use the Internet.
China is another top censor of the Internet. Although access to the Internet is broad, and there is an active social media industry, the country will block IPs, filters searches and will even erase content or reroute queries for restricted content to pro-China information. The blockade, often referred to as the Great Firewall of China, utilizes humans and technology to block access and limit the spread of information. The threat of prison is an additional deterrent. Learn more about internet censorship in China.
1. North Korea
The number one country practicing internet censorship today is North Korea, not too surprising given the closed nature of the country. It is estimated that only about 4% of the entire population even has access to the Internet, with all controlled by the government. The number of cell phone users is a little larger, about 7%, but access to the Internet remains limited. Only a few of the very powerful and wealthy within the government even have access to what the free world knows as the web, most citizens can only access a tightly controlled intranet. Learn more about internet censorship in North Korea.
The list above details the top ten internet censors worldwide but by no means is comprehensive. There are dozens of other countries actively blocking access to the Internet, repressing journalists and otherwise impeding the free flow of information. The degrees vary but in the end, censorship is censorship.
Turkmenistan only allows one internet provider, the government. It blocks access to many sites across the web and monitors all email traffic. There are no outside reporters allowed into the country and the control of media is so dominating that it is nearly impossible to get information out.
In Azerbaijan offices are raided, advertisers are threatened and trumped up drug charges are used to dissuade journalistic activity.
Turkey empowered its government to censor the Internet at will in mid 2014. The move was intended to block dissent among the populace and was a step backward for an otherwise progressive country. The new law requires service providers to keep 2 years of records on all users and to remove objectionable content within 4 hours.
Cuba tightly controls internet access in a number of ways although it has been making some progress. First, users may only get online through official access points. Usage is limited through IP and keyword blocking, browsing history is monitored and only approved pro-government individuals are allowed to upload content. There is some amount of journalistic freedom but the threat of harassment and/or jail still hangs over the population.
Censorship Of Social Media Sites
While there are dozens of countries actively censoring the media, access to the Internet and emails, there are only about a half dozen countries known to censor social media. Of those, the most alarming is Turkey because it is a budding democracy, member of NATO and prospective member of the EU. The mitigating factor, if it can be counted as one, is that Turkey does not impose a complete ban on social media, only when the “political environment dictates”. Two such times include a hostage crisis perpetrated by Marxist rebels in 2015 and during a political corruption scandal in 2014.
North Korea is the only country aside from China known to completely block access to global social media, by restricting its citizens to the local intranet. Residents of other countries, including Turkey, can unblock social media sites with VPN, virtual private network.
Is Online Censorship Spreading To The Free World?
If French authorities get their way, censorship of the Internet could reach new global heights, and even enter into the lives of Americans. The French National Committee on Informatics and Liberties (CNIL) made a move in mid-2015 that could make that possible. The CNIL ordered search engine and web services provider Google to comply with the EU’s “right to be forgotten” rules. The order was intended to affect all of Google’s activities worldwide but as yet the company has not complied. If it is enforced critics say it will bring “unprecedented” censorship of the Internet that would include the United States.
The right-to-be-forgotten rules were first implemented earlier in 2015, when a Spanish citizen brought a case before the European Court of Justice. Mario Costeja Gonzalez sued Google over a breach of privacy when it was discovered a news article dating back to 1998 was showing in search results. The article, pertaining to a repossession due to tax debt, was accurate but viewed as defamatory by Mr. Gonzalez as the debts have long since been repaid. The court ruled that Google and other search engines would have to remove links to information that were deemed “inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant, or excessive”. The ruling did not apply to the original source, the website which published the story, only to the search engines and access to the story through Internet search.
Since the original ruling and Google’s refusal to comply, additional guidelines have been suggested. These include considerations of the information’s accuracy, if it pertains to public figures, if criminal offenses are involved and if the information is fact or opinion. To date, these remain guidelines only and are being applied on a case-by-case basis. Google, which reportedly accounts for roughly 90% of European searches, revealed that within the first month they had received requests to de-list over a million URLs. In addition to de-listing, furthering the scope of censorship, search engines are not even allowed to reveal which URLs have been removed from search as it could draw undue attention to the very information being suppressed.
The major criticism of the ruling is that it violates the basic principals of free speech and freedom of the press. A few news outlets, including the BBC, have taken it upon themselves to reveal any information or URLs they believe has been hidden from public scrutiny but it has done little to curb what has become an international precedent.
Is There A Solution To Online Censorship?
Thankfully there are as many people, businesses and politicians seeking to curb censorship as there are those seeking to implement it. For the average world citizen a VPN to unblock websites can be used. A VPN, virtual private network, is a web-based service that changes IP addresses, circumventing online filters and allowing users free access to the Internet. One such is Le VPN, the leading platform for bypassing internet censorship. With their service it is possible to bypass censorship; users connect with the closest VPN server, of which there are over a hundred worldwide, and gain the benefits of encryption keeping them clear of censors while also protecting personal information, identity and browsing habits.
The services provided; VPN to unblock YouTube, VPN to unblock Twitter and any other website, do not solely benefit the residents of suppressed countries. Those traveling abroad will find themselves blocked when entering these countries. For instance, if in China, visitors would find themselves blocked from Google, Facebook and YouTube and many other website, not just social media, so VPN would be a viable solution. Le VPN offers 3 distinct VPN protocols to help internet users customize performance tailored to their needs, providing IP addresses in 120+ countries. These include PPTP, OpenVPN, and L2TP over IPSEC. If you want to watch any YouTube video anywhere in the world this is the service for you.
The HybridVPN by Le VPN is the latest in virtual private network technology and only available from Le-VPN. It combines AES-256 level encryption with a SmartDNS proxy that allows users to access geo-restricted content and also provides high speed connections. The service also automatically connects to websites Le-VPN has pre-unblocked providing high speed streaming of media from the list.
Internet Censorship Is Here To Stay
It is likely that censorship, and internet censorship, is here to stay. Be it political, ideological, religious or other there will always be someone, somewhere, who wants to block access to the spread of information and content. While it will never be possible to completely end suppression of information there are ways to get around it. VPNs are only one way but perhaps the most reliable available to internet users today.
If you are planning to visit any of the countries on our top ten list you should consider getting a VPN before you go. Le VPN can be installed on Android or iOS devices as well, allowing complete access to all your favorite apps like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and even Google Maps. The only thing keeping you from the content you want is you. Why wait for censors to block you from the content you want? If you want to unblock social media website with VPN, get Le VPN now.
*Article updated on July 25th, 2018*
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