Why Blocking Sites Is Bad for the Internet
The internet is by far one of the greatest inventions of our age. Not only has is created a global community like the world has never seen before, it also has given us easy and instant access to unparalleled amounts of information. Unfortunately, with has good has come the bad, and because of this, we our now starting to see a policing of the internet that is heavily restricting content and bringing into question some of our basic human freedoms. Blocking sites is common practice to a greater or lesser extent all over the world and has become a controversial topic amongst many as they believe it goes against the basic essence of what the internet is and what it stands for.
Why Would Sites Be Blocked?
There are many reasons that websites could be blocked. Pretty much everywhere in the worldhas what is known as a blacklist, which is a selection of websites that have been blocked in that country. As blacklists are secret, citizens aren’t even aware the censored website exists unless they were familiar with it before it was blocked. The grounds for this blacklisting can be political, religious, social or even for the countries security.
Another reason sites may be blocked is purely as a business strategy. Many companies, such as Netflix, offer regional packages, so if your subscription is to, for example, American Netflix, then if you try to access the site abroad you will find it’s blocked. This means you have to pay for separate subscriptions every time you want to watch programs or movies abroad.
What’s the Problem?
Internet censorship and website blocking is highly criticized as it’s a clear and direct violation of the first amendment—freedom of speech. The internet was created as an incredible global network that supported freedom of information and allowed people access to knowledge and learning that they would not have been able to otherwise and censoring sites completely goes against this.
Although there are arguments that blocking sites stops negative and dangerous content, it’s a slippery slope and gives government the freedom to dictate what is good content or bad content. This brings the potential for a sort of online dictatorship, something that is already being seen in countries with high levels of internet censorship. It also gives businesses the opportunity to unfairly charge customers simply because they have changed location.
Censorship & Freedom of Information
Throughout history this has been a controversial topic. From the burning of the books in Nazi Germany and the days of the propaganda of Communist Russia, to modern day internet black holes, such as the current situation in North Korea, people have tried to manipulate and shape public opinion through restricting access to information. This is no different as we move into the age of the internet; many countries use online censorship to maintain false appearances both internationally and to their own people.
For example, China blocks access to most foreign news sites and even filters news containing certain phrases such as “Tiananmen Square” in attempts to keep the massacre hidden from citizens. Other countries, such as Turkey and Iran, block social network sites such as Facebook and YouTube as they contain uncontrollable content that questions their national belief systems.
Are There Any Benefits?
While there are clear reasons why blocking sites is bad for the internet as a whole, it is worth looking at the counterargument. The internet is becoming ever-increasingly accessible as more and more devices are brought out with online capabilities. Children are using smartphones, iPads and computers from an earlier age than ever before and many criminals are moving onto the web to carry out immoral acts.
Targeted blocking of websites such as pedophilia rings and child porn sites, terrorist organizations and black market shops have already been carried out in some countries with an arguable amount of success. However, this censorship has in no way stopped any of the aforementioned problems, so the question remains as to whether those pursuits justify the potential for the complete online dictatorships that are growing in many parts of the world.
How to Unblock Websites
Although there is no way to prevent internet censorship completely, as every country has some sites that are blacklisted, there is a way to significantly improve the situation—particularly if you are in some of the worst affected countries. A Virtual Private Network(VPN) is a downloadable software package that allows you to change your IP address—which gives your device its location—to the address of the VPN server. This means you can access the internet as if you were in a country with less severe restrictions. The rise in use of the software has been dramatic in recent years, with countries such as Australia—who recently increased there censorship laws to try and block all pirated material—seeing an 500 percent increase in VPN users.
There may be some arguable benefits for censoring the internet, but that doesn’t take away from the undeniable fact the it goes against everything the internet stands for as a concept. If we continue to allow blacklisting of sites based on government preferences or allow major companies to manipulate users through geo-blocking, where could it lead? What do you think about internet censorship and freedom of speech? Be sure to leave your ideas in the comments below and continue to discussion on this increasingly relevant topic.