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Guide to Online Censorship

Online censorship is a big issue nowadays and it may become an even greater one going forward.

As you can imagine, the issue is a lot more complicated than it seems, but being informed is the crucial to us keeping our rights to free speech, which were hard earned by our ancestors.

What’s wrong with Online Censorship?

Censorship seeks to suppress the free exchange of ideas and information deemed unacceptable or threatening by a party in power. The internet has become the world’s largest platform for free speech. Unrestricted access to information empowers individuals like no generation before, giving voices to those who might not otherwise be heard, and sight to those who might not otherwise see.

But censorship threatens the open nature of the internet, inhibiting the world’s free market of ideas. Governments and corporations can silence free speech, limit access to information, and restrict the use of communication tools. Such actions serve the interests of those in power and undermines the civil liberties of everyone else.

Who censors?

The most obvious occurrences of censorship are those put in place by law, particularly national governments. Governments of autocratic regimes often censor the web to stifle dissent.

Perhaps the most famous example is China, where the ruling Communist Party has instituted a complex, nationwide censorship system and well-staffed internet police force. Google famously exited the Chinese market because it refused to comply with the government’s censorship requirements for search results.

A corporation, such as an ISP or internet company, might censor content at the behest of a government authority. In China, ISPs are responsible for blocking websites, while social media companies are tasked with filtering messages and posts containing sensitive keywords.

Net Neutrality
Perhaps the most contentious debate around censorship today is that of net neutrality. Net neutrality argues that the internet should be treated like a utility: all websites and apps receive equal treatment in terms of access. But telecommunication corporations, which have been buying up content creation companies, want to funnel people toward the content that makes them money. To do this, they throttle traffic to competitors such as Netflix, while connections to their own entertainment offerings are unfettered.

Censorship can even take place on an individual level. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter allow users to block content from certain users and sources. Censorship is an issue of individual liberty, so there’s nothing inherently wrong about this when it comes to civil rights. But weeding out opposing views and only seeing self-affirming posts that validate what a person already thinks probably isn’t a healthy practice.

What is censored?

Websites and apps
People, events, and organizations
– Communication tools
– The deep web

How is the web censored?
Many methods of blocking content on the web exist for those with the power to do so. The most common bottleneck where authorities can efficiently censor large swathes of the population is at the ISP level. ISPs, or internet service providers, act as gateways for everyone connected to the internet.

IP blocking
Governments can order ISPs to block the IP addresses and domain names of specific websites and apps.

Keyword filtering
As mentioned above, keyword filtering identifies and blocks content containing keywords deemed inappropriate by an authority.

DNS poisoning
DNS poisoning–also known as DNS spoofing, hijacking, and tampering–occurs when corrupt DNS data causes traffic to be diverted to the wrong IP address. The attacker, or in some cases the government and ISP, poison the resolver cache on a nameserver, where web page requests are sent. In China, the DNS entries for Facebook and other websites were poisoned so that anyone who tried to go to those sites would be redirected to a dead end. Some experts say these requests were sent to other sites that authorities disapproved of, resulting in a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack.


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