Internet censorship is active in some countries; however, in some countries, it’s not possible. In this guide, we’ll discuss the topic of internet censorship. If you would like to know what internet censorship is, you should read through this guide.
What is Censorship?
In broad terms, censorship means “the control of words, images, or ideas that are “offensive,” according to a definition provided by the ACLU. It is additionally defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security.”
At its core, censorship is a way to restrict the freedom of expression of an individual or group. Censorship can occur in many venues and commonly applies to speech and writing, as well as the dissemination of information or news. It is far-reaching and can extend to any form of expression to encompass things like clothing, literature, and art. The main goal of censorship is to restrict, control or influence personal, political, and moral views.
What is Internet Censorship?
Internet censorship simply put, could mean the restraint of content in the virtual world. Internet censorship is most often carried out by a government, although internet service providers, technology firms, and smaller organizations (for example, a school) also enact censorship from time to time.
Most often, if an internet service provider or technology company brings censorship on a large scale they are doing so at the request of a government, or in accordance with a law or regulation [passed by the government].
Like censorship in general, internet censorship is intended to restrict what content or information is available online. As formally defined by RIT, “Internet censorship is the concept of limiting the flow of information in order to better protect the population or, in most cases, to protect the country’s interests.”
Types of Web Censorship
Different things can be censored, like specific pictures, words, or whole websites and internet protocols. There are also different ways to censor things – blocking either full access to the material or limiting searches for censored terms.
One type of censorship is when a government makes it illegal to say certain things. For instance, in China, the government has made it illegal to talk about certain topics online, like democracy or human rights. They do this by censoring websites that discuss these topics and punishing people who break the rules. Governments work with ISPs to put those restrictions into motion, either by outright blocking access to websites or redirecting traffic to similar, regulated sites.
Another type of censorship is when social media companies block certain content from their platforms. For example, Facebook has been criticized for censoring body positivity and sex education posts. Likewise, YouTube has been accused of censoring videos about LGBTQ+ rights, mental health, and COVID-19 awareness. In this case, platforms issue take-down notices, followed by the removal of said content.
It’s not uncommon for governments to even force tech companies to impose content restrictions based on their own propaganda. In such a case, the government would strong-arm content hosts into submission by threatening outright bans of their platforms.
As a counterpoint, Twitter has started clearly marking government-related profiles, so users can see at a glance whether the profile could be a part of a propaganda machine. It’s not much, but at least it helps fight the censorship on the internet.
Lastly, censorship can happen on a smaller scale within a single institution. For example, a school may restrict access to certain parts of the internet or even key phrases. That way, the students cannot use the school’s computers to visit inappropriate websites like adult websites or social networks.
Similarly, employers may put blocks on specific apps, services, and websites, so the employees can only access the software and websites they allow them to. While we’ll be discussing how to avoid content blocks and censorship using free VPNs and similar tactics, we strongly advise caution in such situations.
Internet Censorship Technologies
The following is a list of the most common internet censorship technologies:
In countries where authorities have control over domain name servers, officials can “deregister” a domain that is hosting nefarious content. As explained last week, this makes the website invisible to the browsers of users seeking to access the site because it prevents the translation of domain names to site IP addresses. This is similar to receiving the wrong phone number of the person you wish to call.
Governments with control over internet service providers can blacklist certain IP addresses of websites they do not like. When you request access to a site, your request is monitored by surveillance computers, which check your request against a list of blacklisted IP addresses. If you are trying to reach one of these forbidden sites, the internet service provider will drop the connection, causing it to fail.
For instance, in China, where international-gateway servers control the flow of internet information in and out of the entire country, requests to banned sites are intercepted by these mega-servers, which then interrupt the transmission by sending a “reset” request to both your machine and the one you wish to reach. This causes the connection to hang up, preventing access to the information you want.
If the target Web site is hosted on a shared hosting server, all sites existing on the same server will be blocked as well, even if they are not targeted for filtering themselves.
IP address filtering only blocks websites that are explicitly blacklisted (or those that share the same server). But if you’re a government wanting to block all information on subject X, this can be a problem. Not only are there billions of websites, but new ones are created all the time, making it nearly impossible to create a fully updated list of sites with forbidden content.
For a more powerful censoring technique, governments may use URL filtering. This mechanism scans the requested Uniform Resource Locator (URL) string (e.g. www.website.com/how-to-overthrow-Iranian-regime/) for target words. If the URL includes forbidden terms, the connection will be reset.
An even more fine-grained strategy is also one of the newest and most sophisticated internet censoring technologies: packet filtering, or scanning the actual contents of each page. When data is sent over the internet, it is grouped in small units called packets.
Think of a packet as a letter in an envelope: it contains both the contents of your letter as well as instructions of where the letter is supposed to go (i.e. sender and receiver addresses.) Packets are relayed from computer to computer using routers, which are like the Internet’s postal service.
IP address filtering can only block communication on the basis of where packets are going to or coming from – that is, their address – not the actual material of their contents. The process of deep packet inspection examines packet contents for banned keywords. Communication identified as containing forbidden content can be disrupted by dropping the connection. Users may receive one of a number of error messages on their browsers, none indicating explicitly that they are being censored.
The best way to defeat online censorship
Proton VPN is the best way to defeat the most popular types of online censorship.
A VPN creates an encrypted tunnel between your device and the VPN server. Your internet traffic, including your DNS queries, is then routed through the VPN server and not traceable back to you. This prevents your ISP from seeing which websites you are trying to access and prevents it from applying any blocks. You can then connect to a server in another country (like the countries with high FOTN scores) where that content or service is not blocked.
This will let you defeat:
- DNS filtering
- IP address blocking
- URL filtering
- Search engine blocks
WHAT is usually CENSORED?
- Periodicals (published with set frequency)
- Television programs
- Radio programs
- Internet (Web sites and e-mail)
- News reports
Advantages of internet censorship
- Internet censorship can be a protection measure
- The censorship of the internet can filter inappropriate information online and protect children from disturbing websites, such as child pornography, sexual violence, and detailed instructions on crime or drug use.
- The censorship of the internet can guard people against the disturbing email spam
- The censorship of the internet can protect the life and privacy of people.
- The censorship of the internet can decrease internet violence and protect people’s personal security
- The censorship of the internet can help to protect social stability and national safety.
The Importance of Internet Freedom
The internet was built to be a free, open resource accessible to people around the world and to provide universal access to content and information. In the years since its creation, however, the internet has become increasingly segmented and restricted. Internet freedom is essential for many reasons, including:
- Basic human right
- Freedom of expression
- Access to information
- Open communication
- Connection and collaboration
- Access to tools and platforms
- Exchange of ideas and creativity
Censorship can also be forced by an individual onto themselves, a phenomenon referred to as “self-censorship.” Self-censorship occurs when an individual is so concerned about repercussions – whether that be punishment like a fine or jail time or being ostracized from a group – that they censor themselves.
This means they refrain from saying, posting, doing, or expressing what they actually feel due to their fear of the consequence. Self-censorship is increasingly common, and in the online realm often occurs when people choose to not to post their actual thoughts or viewpoints online. This includes refraining from posting opinions on sites such as social media or personal blogs, or as commentary on content, others have posted.
In conclusion, knowing what internet censorship is can help a lot, especially as you know the benefits f internet censorship and internet freedom.
However, you should note that having no access to the online world can restrain people’s ability to freely express themselves. When people are only exposed to one side of an issue, it can be challenging to develop a well-rounded opinion. Seeing only one aspect of the whole picture can also lead to misinformation.
Censorship can create an atmosphere of fear and mistrust. People may grow afraid of expressing their opinions or sharing their ideas, which can lead to a feeling of isolation and disconnection.