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A Guide to Online Censorship

Online censorship is also referred to as internet censorship and is the restriction or suppression of allowing access or publishing on cyberspace. Online censorship can be executed by private organizations or by governments at the request or command of regulators, the government or their own initiative. It is because of online censorship that unrestricted TV streaming on the internet is rare.

An overview

Organizations and individuals may be involved in censorship because of business, moral or religious reasons. Sometimes censorship is mainly done to conform to social norms or because of legal obligations.

Opinions on internet censorship vary and there are numerous arguments that support and oppose the concept. The extent to which internet censorship is required varies from one country to the next. Some countries have very high levels of censorship while other have very little censorship.

Often in response to protests, elections and riots internet censorship may occur, sometimes before the events take place and sometimes even after. Harassment, copyrights and defamation are other reasons for internet censorship.

Transparency in filtering

While a large number of countries are pretty subtle about their censorship activities and laws, other are pretty open about what they block and what is allowed online. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia are two countries that openly publish details regarding their filtering practices.

In these countries users also get a notification on their screen when trying to access a blocked website.

On the other hand, countries like Tunisia and China send an error indication when users try to access censored sites. Requests to access banned sites are blocked at the router level itself, successfully preventing the user from making any more http requests for the site, which to the user appears as a ‘time-out” error void of any explanation.

Common censorship targets

The motives behind censorship are mentioned above. The most common motives for banning sites are discussed in a little detail below.

Politics and power motives

In repressive and authoritarian regimes it is common to have online censorship that is directed at opposition to the government that is currently ruling. Sometimes religions or minority groups that pose a threat to the government are also blocked off. Some examples include political sites and blogs, sites that target religious conversion, exile group sites and websites that offends or challenges the dignity of the ruling power.

Morals and social norms

Filtering for morals and social norms is related to the censorship of sites that are not ethical according to the norms laid down by society. For instance, censorship of child pornography is supported worldwide and most countries censor and restrict such content in order to protect children.

In a lot of countries, online casinos and gambling sites are also censored. Some other examples of sites that may be censored include sites that promote criminal activity, site that put up hate speech and site that have blasphemous content.

Protecting economic interests and intellectual property

Websites that have content which violates intellectual property rights or copyright are blocked quite often especially in North America and Western Europe. Sites are sometimes blocked because they may pose a threat to certain existing aspects of the economy. For instance, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services of certain companies. Again, the censorship of such websites also varies from one country to the next.

Security concerns

A large number of organizations have filtering systems as a defense to protect them from malware. Online censorship is also used to protect the environment of organizations from being misused. Filtering related to national security usually relates to sites of extremists, insurgents and terrorists. Such sites often get support from the public to be blocked.

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