Sunday, October 4, 2009

An Overview of Internet Censorship in the World

The Guardian recently posted an online map documenting the presence of Internet censorship around the world. The map takes into account four types of content targeted by censorship: political, social, security and internet tools. Each country is either colored gray (if no data is available) or given a color on a scale from yellow to red, with yellow indicating "no evidence" of censorship and red indicating "pervasive" censorship.

Internet censorship penetrates all areas of the world, from here in the United States to across the world in the Middle East and China. The map offers a useful though incomplete overview of Internet censorship around the world. For the countries on the map currently designated as gray ("no data"), the Guardian requests its readers' help on gathering more information. It is not clear what the Guardian does with the data gathered this way from its readers. Most likely it is used as a lead to further investigation rather than taken to be fact, otherwise the reliability of the map would be questionable.

Overall, this map is too broad and vague to be taken as the sole source of information about Internet censorship around the world. However, it provides an adequate starting point for investigating the topic. The map raises some interesting points. For instance, China, Burma and Iran are the only countries listed as having "pervasive" or "substantial" censorship in all of the four categories. These countries will likely be mentioned often in future blogs about Internet censorship.

Internet censorship is a reflection of deep bonds between computers and society. Ever since the Internet became available to everyday consumers, computers have taken on an increasingly bigger role in today's world and, consequently, in today's societies.

The Internet has undoubtedly revolutionized the way humans communicate. Governments and other organizations often fear the power of this efficient method of sharing ideas, so they attempt to control it through censorship. Up until now, the increased attempts on enforcing censorship on the Internet have paralleled the increase in power and popularity of the Internet.

However, in the future this trend may change. As the Internet becomes an increasingly important means of communication, Internet users will naturally value their freedom of expression more. The result of this ongoing conflict between Internet censorship and freedom of expression is unclear. Eventually one will have to be sacrificed, at least partially, for the other.


  1. This is a great background post, and I'll look forward to seeing future ones that highlight specific examples and incidents. It's an area with lots of drama!

    On the data, it would be good to have a bit more sense of what they include under things like "social" and "security". I have a vague sense (e.g., restricting child pornography is social), but it could cover a wide variety and is very culturally dependent. For that matter, the whole concept of "freedom of expression" is culturally dependent, though from our American perspective we take it more for granted and don't recognize it as our particular political stance.

  2. I really liked how you first questioned the validity of the data used by Open Net Initiative and the Guardian to generate the map, rather than taking it at face value. I agree with you that the map is not a definitive representation of the current state of online censorship around the world; the map is not a result of analysis but rather should be a groundwork for critical analysis.
    I also found it notable that the map divided censorship into several different categories. The fact that countries exercises a varying degree of censorship for each category indicates that a unique set of political, social, and security circumstances apply to each country. Therefore, we need to examine the issue of online censorship from a cross-cultural perspective, rather than trying to simplify and generalize it.
    Lastly, the last part of the post made me think about the pace of technological progress and the rate of our society's maturation. The advent of the Internet is a relatively recent phenomenon and we are still in a transitional phase during which we are still grappling with its implications. Whereas we had hundreds of years to come to a gradual consensus about civil liberties in real life, so far we had only few years to deal with this new form of medium. Considering that human decision-making process should be an extremely lengthy and painstaking one, I fear that our society will make hasty, premature decisions to accomodate the fast-changing technology. I hope by comparing different cases and investigating effects of online censorship (like we will on our blogs), we can help make a more informed and wiser choice.