You surf to the online home of the New York Times every morning. You scan your Twitter account for messages from friends, family members, professional athletes, and celebrities. You read the gossip and news at the Huffington Post daily. And before you turn out for the night, you check out the antics of your favorite celebrities at TMZ.com.
Consider yourself lucky. There are citizens across the globe who can’t access any of these sites. That’s because they live under authoritarian regimes that block at least some of their access to the Internet.
Restricting access to the Web
Students in China, for instance, might not be able to log onto the Web home of the New York Times during times of political unrest. Government protesters in Iran might not be able to send messages to each other through Facebook. And residents of Burma might not have access to the global Internet entirely when political protests are taking place in that country.
Unfortunately, authoritarian regimes have several ways of blocking their citizens’ access to the Internet, and these methods have evolved over time just as the Web itself has evolved.
Blocking access to Web 2.0 apps
For instance, governments might block either permanently or temporarily the access that their citizens have to such Web 2.0 applications as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. Often, such blocks occur during political protests, election seasons or the violent crackdowns to protests that too often occur in such countries.
Countries can also be more subtle in squeezing off access to the Internet. Some, for instance, have restricted connection speeds. This, in essence, makes it impossible for users to download, share, or even see audio and video files.
Some authoritarian governments use what is known as technical filtering to prevent their citizens from accessing content that uses specific keywords. Others use this technology to block their citizens from logging onto specific domain names or Web addresses.
This might sound surprising, but some governments even employ actual human censors to monitor and manually remove forum and blog posts that the government finds objectionable. Often, these censors will eliminate blog posts or forum messages that criticize government leaders or policies.
The United States, of course, has plenty of flaws. However, we can all be proud to live in a country in which the Internet remains largely unrestricted.