The internet’s capacity to provide unlimited access to information has inevitably generated pushback in the form of legal restrictions on content sharing. As such, censorship has become a prevalent issue for debate. To get you primed on the topic, here are seven facts about digital censorship that you probably didn’t know:
1. Free Speech on the Internet Depends on Where You Live
Online content distribution is new territory for legislation, so international laws have taken time to catch up with modern technology. Today, each region of the planet has wildly different rules pertaining to internet usage. In some countries, lawmakers have enacted strict guidelines, which ultimately restrict access to information alongside implementing limitations on free speech.
2. China and Russia Heavily Censor the Web for Their Citizens
In terms of online censorship, the most restrictive nations are undoubtedly the autocratic regimes of China and Russia. According to Time Magazine, China has even blocked Wikipedia for their residents.
3. The U.S. Even Helps China Censor Their Internet
While American citizens enjoy unfettered access to most forms of legally shared content, their biggest companies are still helping other countries censor the web. Wired reports that Microsoft and Apple are willing participants in hindering the flow of information under dictatorships in other countries. While this may seem hypocritical, they are simply guaranteeing their international market value.
4. A VPN Helps Users Circumvent Censorship
Fortunately, citizens don’t have to simply succumb to censorship if they live in a prohibitive district. By relying on a virtual privacy network (VPN), mindful users can obscure their location to subsequently access blocked materials. Of course, some countries are banning these tools too. For example, Fortune Magazine recently revealed Russia’s latest crackdown on the technology.
5. Some Countries Arrest Citizens for Social Media Use
Censorship can also extend to your own personal expression on the web. Some countries have expanded obscenity laws to inhibit the use of Facebook and Twitter. If content is deemed to be hateful, the original poster may be incarcerated or fined. This trend has extended even to Canada and Britain.
6. Net Neutrality Prevents Corporate Censorship
There are also covert mechanisms for censorship to take place discreetly. If internet providers can legally throttle connection speeds, they effectively determine what media is available to their subscribers. This creates an environment where censorship is based on financial interests as opposed to legislative concerns.
7. The Future of Online Censorship is Uncertain
The internet is still an uncharted realm when it comes to censorship, and the present openness of this platform is not guaranteed in the future. As a global hub of unprecedented size and scale, the internet is currently subjected to endless regulations from governments around the world. These laws are constantly changing, so the web’s future is still coming into focus.
A free internet is fundamental to democratic societies and educated populations; thus, online censorship should be kept in check. Restrictions can serve the interests of public safety, but they can also hamper expression and hinder communication. Balance is key to maintaining a healthy awareness of the limitations on digital speech.