Internet censorship explained

5 min
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Depending on your location, you may not be able to access certain websites. This is due to internet censorship or internet usage regulations mandated by the government, your internet provider, or your workplace.

What is Internet censorship and how does it work?

Definition of Internet censorship according to

“Internet censorship is the practice of prohibiting or suppressing certain online content.”

We often think of internet censorship as heavily regulated internet access for citizens in countries like China and Russia. However, the censorship of the Internet can be as simple as a university limiting access to certain websites or parental control blocking certain types of content they deem inappropriate.  

Web censorship happens in one of the following directions:

  • Top-down censorship: When an organization or a government tells internet service providers to block certain types of content or websites.
  • Self-imposed censorship: Individuals or groups self-censor by deciding what content to avoid.

How does Internet censorship work?

There are various methods used for implementing internet censorship:

DNS Tampering: DNS stands for Domain Name Servers, which are basically websites you’ve visited or domain names for IP addresses. DNS tempering is a technique used by hackers to access DNS records. After gaining access, they can enter entire networks and make desired changes. DNS tempering often leads to viruses or identity theft.

Internet Protocol (IP) Address Blocking: This is the simplest way to censor websites or platforms. The censor lists the IP addresses or TCP/IP port numbers of websites to be blocked. When browsers request to access a website, the ISP (Internet Service Provider) checks the request against the list. In case of a match, the ISP drops the connection. All websites on the same shared hosting server share the same IP address and are blocked.

IP address blocking is most commonly used to geo-block copyrighted content. Censors can even put internet restrictions on the type of traffic by blocking certain TCP/IP ports.

Search Engine Blocks: What is search engine censorship? Governments may block search engines if they don’t agree to filter out objectionable content as per the country’s laws. This type of censorship can only be enacted by national governments that define objectionable content to be removed from search results. Google’s Safe Search is an example of a search filter, though it’s meant to block inappropriate content from children.

Deep Packet Inspection (DPI): This is an advanced form of web censorship used by states with strict internet restrictions. It inspects the metadata of packets transferred between servers to determine the type of traffic. According to their findings, authorities can log, re-route, or block that traffic. This method is highly effective at blocking encrypted traffic. 

Packet filtering: This involves checking the header of the network packets. The header contains information about source of traffic, destination IP address, ports, and protocol type. Packet filtering is a firewall function for traffic control, particularly identifying and stopping malicious traffic. Censors can use packet filtering to block internet traffic with unwanted encryption protocols or traffic from ports used by web censorship circumvention tools.

Traffic Shaping (or Packed Shaping): It involves managing bandwidth to allow certain applications to perform better than others. Prioritized apps run without any issues, and other apps will be slowed down or throttled.

Reasons for Internet censorship

Reasons for web censorship vary from country to country and organization to organization, depending on various factors. For instance, a company can ban access to YouTube or social media websites to ensure employees are not distracted by these platforms during their working hours. A country may impose internet restrictions to limit fake news for example.

The key reasons behind internet censorship are:

Cyberbullying: Cyberbullying involves a person or group of people using technology to intentionally and repetitively act against a person, causing distress or threat to the target’s wellbeing. It can impact human rights, including the right to the highest standards of physical and mental health, the right to freedom of expression, the right to fair working conditions, the right to education, and many more.

Cyber-racism: It can take various forms, like offensive comments or jokes, verbal abuse, intimidation, or public commentary that inflames hostility towards particular groups.

Cyber-sexism: It refers to violent acts that occur in cyberspace, are sexist, and reiterate dominant gender norms targeting males and females. Some examples of cyber-sexism are creep-shots, where men click photos of intimate body parts of women and upload them onto publicly accessible websites.

Cyber-homophobia: It refers to the practice of bullying members of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community. There have been many high-profile cases of cyber-homophobia that have resulted in self-harm and suicide.

Because of the hazards caused by these cyber-crimes, internet restrictions via web censorship have become very important. 

Where does Internet censorship happen?

It is often believed that the censorship of the internet takes place at the government level. However, web censorship also takes place at home, at work, or sometimes at other public places. Let’s discuss this in detail:

At home: Web censorship at home typically occurs as parental controls. It involves parents blacklisting certain websites and keyboard blocking, mainly to keep their children safe online. Blacklisting involves filtering out certain websites, and this list is constantly updated for the latest undesirable web content.

On the other hand, keyword blocking hides certain web pages with some particular keywords from view. Both these activities help control what kids can see online. In addition, parents use firewalls to hide content, which can be via a hardware or software tool.

At work: We all know that many people try to use the office network for personal reasons, like for social media, listening to songs, and many more. This affects the productivity of employees and actual work time at the workplace. That’s why employers or businesses censor the internet to block access to inappropriate content and increase employees’ productivity. Some companies also use firewalls to block certain web pages or even entire domains. 

Internet Service Providers: Web censorship also takes place at ISP level, when ISPs block certain websites from being seen or accessible to their consumers. However, this type of internet censorship is widely debated.

When might it be okay to censor online content?

Following are some of the most common scenarios where web censorship becomes acceptable:

Illegal content: Content that promotes child pornography, terrorism, or incites violence.

Hate speech and harassment: Content that targets individuals or groups based on ethnicity, national origin, race, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or disease.

Misinformation and disinformation: The spread of false information with serious consequences.

Intellectual property violations: Content that infringes on intellectual property rights, such as pirated music or movies.

Protecting privacy and personal data: Content that violates privacy, such as the unauthorized sharing of personal data, intimate images, or private communications.

National security: Content that threatens national security.

Protecting minors: Content, such as explicit sexual content or extreme violence, that is not suitable for minors.

Who does Internet censorship affect?

Censorship online can affect a person or a group of people, and the impact varies depending on the extent and content of internet restrictions. Following (but are not limited to) are the key entities affected by web censorship:

  • General public of the region where network censorship is enforced.
  • Activists, political dissidents, and human rights defenders in countries that give limited freedom of speech.
  • Journalists and media organizations attempting to report on sensitive issues.
  • Academics and researchers
  • Businesses operating in regions with strict internet censorship may struggle to communicate openly, access global markets, or leverage digital tools.
  • Artists, musicians, writers, and filmmakers
  • Schools and universities may face internet restrictions on accessing educational materials.
  • Minorities and marginalized communities, especially if censored websites or censored content are relevant to their identities or advocacy efforts.

Why is Internet freedom important? 

The Internet has become an indispensable part of our lives. In fact, in the summer of 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Council declared internet access a basic human right. 

But web censorship denies people that basic right.

Internet access provides access to education, information, and communication. You can talk with your friends and family located anywhere in the world. You can enjoy endless content of your choice. Similarly, the Internet is a crucial digital tool for businesses and economies. Because of this, internet freedom is critical in today’s tech-driven world.

Final words

As you see, there are several tools to circumvent internet censorship, such as proxy, web browsers, and VPNs. Make sure you use a reliable VPN like Tuxler VPN that gives easy access to any website and content.

Tuxler VPN is a popular and lightweight tool with high-end encryption protection. It gives you access to tens of thousands of safe servers worldwide. So, if you are considering using a VPN, you can choose a reliable tool like Tuxler VPN.

However, every tool comes with its own limitations and brings liability. So, be aware of all limitations when using these tools to bypass internet restrictions. 

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