How to Counter Censorship
Censorship in the modern age takes many forms. It occurs when access to certain websites, networks, and search engines becomes restricted. When governments delete or distort news and information deemed undesirable. When writers, artists, and web users are threatened with legal action by the police for expressing their views.
China, for example, is known for its advanced internet control apparatus. The Great Firewall of China blocks not only Google, but also Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and even Chinese Wikipedia.
The Censorship Problem
Internet censorship affects web users closer to home too. After repeated stand offs with courts in Sweden and abroad, the file-sharing website the Pirate Bay no longer shows up in the Google search results. Many internet service providers around the world block it as well. Because the Pirate Bay does not create information but simply shares it, this continues to be one of the most controversial examples of censorship on the web.
Censorship affects social media as well. Networks like Twitter have blocked far-right activists, while Facebook and Google use AI and human content moderators to remove content deemed offensive and ban offenders. The line between censorship and content filtering is often a fine one, and media and technology companies have become in recent years reluctant arbitrators, facing on one side free speech advocates and on the other threatening governments.
The Freedom on the Net report, which annually surveys a sample of 65 countries around the world, found that in 2018, only 15 countries enjoyed a “free internet”. For the majority, access to the world wide web was limited or restricted. Worryingly, 26 countries said that the freedom of the internet has declined since 2017.
Because internet censorship takes so many forms and is often controlled by governments, it may seem difficult to counter. Nevertheless, in a matter where the openness of the internet and the freedom of expression of individuals is at stake, there are ways to bypass it.
Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
Censors today often use URL filtering to block websites or web pages. This method scans URLs and, if it identifies blacklisted keywords, blocks the web page. Moreover, to restrict specific content to specific regions, censors blacklist Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. Because every computer uses an IP address to connect to the web, this method can be very effective.
However, a VPN creates an encrypted tunnel between you and your ISP that hides your IP and other details related to your connection. An unlimited VPN can help you bypass IP blocking and URL filtering. For many people around the world, the cost of a monthly subscription to a VPN is but a small price to pay for the web freedom it offers them.
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Use a Search Engine Other Than Google
Google has company policies and must comply with government censorship laws, which means that it may not show all sites on the web. Google blacklists not only websites containing (or suspected to contain) malware, but also sites containing adult content, vendors of questionable goods, and a variety of other websites which have come to be regarded as “the dark web.” In recent years, the Pirate Bay has become one of its targets as well.
Alternative search engines like Gibiru promise uncensored, anonymous search. Changing your browser can be one of the easiest ways to counter censorship in 2019 and beyond.
Choose Another ISP
Depending on their location, internet service providers may be more or less at the mercy of censorship policies enforced by governments. While people in mainland China cannot bypass the Great Firewall of their country, internet users in Sweden were able to access the Pirate Bay in 2017 even after a Swedish court ordered the local ISP B2 Bredband to block the file-sharing site. They could do this by simply switching to another ISP.
Because some ISPs may have a bigger list of blacklisted websites than others, it’s important to research your ISP before subscribing to its services.
Use the Onion Router
Tor, or the Onion Router, is a worldwide volunteer network that encrypts your web surfing to keep your presence on the web anonymous. Some people use it to access the dark web, or the pages that search engines like Google and Bing don’t index. But you can also use Tor as an anti-censorship browser which can help you access websites blacklisted by ISPs or search engines.
However, while using Tor is safe and perfectly legal, parts of the dark web is not. That’s why it’s important to use a good security solution and stay clear of the corners of the dark web where illegal goods and possibly dangerous individuals lurk.
Drop Off Social Media and Embrace Anonymity on the Web
For all their influence, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube find themselves in a difficult position. Their reach makes them giants of the social web, but ultimately, they are companies subject to censorship policies and federal laws. Over the years, all of these networks have deleted content deemed as offensive or inappropriate and blocked users with radical views.
This may seem but a mild-form of modern-day internet censorship. But it can be considered censorship nevertheless. If using a VPN or the Tor browser to encrypt your browsing habits is not enough, consider saying no to social media networks and other websites that actively block users. For some people, this approach may be too radical. But for others, it’s a way to fight content censorship.
A Personal Definition of Censorship
Internet censorship is a reality that millions of people around the world face every day. However, when it comes to countering censorship, every modern user needs to take his or her own stance. For some, using a VPN and alternative search engines and web browsers is enough. For others, however, countering censorship may only be possible by rejecting or denying web browsers, social networks, and ISPs that engage even in mild forms of censorship that affect only certain users. In the digital age, the definition of censorship is a personal one, which every web user has to carefully consider.
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