The introduction of the internet brought about unfiltered access to the digital realm and a platform to express ideologies and topics. However, the 21st century came with information control and censorship. Hence, today, every internet user must know the prevalent censorship laws, practices, and statistics to ensure online safety.
Most governments now monitor, regulate, and restrict information on the internet to prevent the circulation of harmful content, maintain social order, and protect national security. Countries like Iran, North Korea, and China have strict internet censorship laws regulating the circulation of information within their territories. These laws suppress and ban the circulation of information and content deemed subversive or inconsistent with the government’s position and policy.
Continue reading this article to examine how countries react to internet censorship, finding a balance between safeguarding society and upholding the freedom of expression.
Top 10 Internet censorship statistics
The page covers more, but we will examine the top 10 internet censorship statistics below:
- The number of people impacted by internet outages between 2020 and 2021 increased by 80%.
- About 4.2 billion people worldwide were affected by the increase in internet censorship activities.
- The World Economic Forum provides that while 35% of users could not access the internet, only 24% had unrestricted access.
- The Turkish government has blocked over 450,000 websites since 2020.
- China, Iran, and North Korea are the top countries with strict internet censorship laws.
- Internet restriction and blocking cost the world economy about $5.5 billion in 2021.
- A report from Freedom House revealed that Ireland ranks as the number one country guaranteeing internet freedom, with 95 points.
- About 64% of internet users express their concerns about government censorship activities.
- Internet users increased in 2021, gaining around 300 million users.
- About 59.4% of Turkish teachers believe internet censorship is essential in educational institutions.
What is internet censorship?
Internet censorship is the practice of restricting or controlling what people can publish, access, and view online. Governments and private organizations censor internet content to restrict the activities of dissidents, protect the public from inappropriate or offensive content, and maintain peace and order.
What do they block?
Governments and organizations can block virtually anything capable of causing unrest or that they perceive as subversive. That includes websites, internet protocols, specific images, and articles. Common online content that they block include:
- Pornographic images, videos, and websites
- News media platforms
- Torrent websites
- Social media websites
- Foreign websites and content
Where does censorship happen?
While we’ve established that governments are at the forefront regarding internet censorship, you must understand that it’s not limited to them.
So, apart from the Great Firewall in China, other institutions can also censor internet content. Guardians at home, stakeholders at work, and internet service providers can also suppress and control accessible content on the internet.
Here are the different forms internet censorship can take in the real world.
1. Censorship at home
Parents and guardians often regulate and control their kids’s activities online. They use keyword blocking and blacklists to ensure they cannot access inappropriate content.
Keyword blocking hides websites with specific keywords from children. Hence, it appears as though these websites don’t exist.
Blacklists include a list of websites that is automatically filtered out. Parents often update the list regularly to include inappropriate or lewd web content they may have missed. They can also use hardware or software firewalls to hide content from children.
2. Censorship at work
The internet has become a veritable tool for official purposes. However, most workers often use it for personal reasons during official hours. A report from Software Advice revealed that about 43% of workers commit time theft, using their working hours for other purposes.
Hence, business owners and stakeholders introduce internet censorship to increase workers’ productivity. They utilize firewalls to restrict access to web pages or domains. They also block access to inappropriate content to prevent lawsuits. For example, a company may face a sexual harassment case if a client catches a team member viewing pornographic content during official hours.
3. Internet service providers’ censorship
Internet service providers (ISPs) can also block users from opening specific websites or web pages.
However, net neutrality mandates ISPs to be transparent when dealing with organizations and websites in the United States. Hence, they are not supposed to suppress a particular website and allow another one to load seamlessly. Without net neutrality, ISPs are free to charge for bandwidth usage so that these websites can load faster.
This is a form of restriction, even though various dissenting opinions exist in the United States.
How does internet censorship work?
Internet censorship can come in different forms, and there’s one thing common with the different methods – the suppression of information or media on the Internet. Consider the common forms of internet censorship below:
1. IP address blocking
IP address blocking is a common strategy for internet censorship. An IP address is a unique string of numbers assigned to each device connected to the internet. The numerical label facilitates communication on the Internet. It uses the Internet Protocol (IP) to communicate to the internet where to open when you type a domain name.
A common form of IP address blocking is geographical restrictions. This occurs when a particular region blocks or prohibits a specific content or website. Government policies can also mandate IP address blocking on an ad hoc basis.
2. DNS tampering
DNS is the acronym for domain name servers. It is a database with the public IP addresses of websites you visit. Hackers and cybercriminals often tamper with DNS to gain access to DNS records. Access to this database empowers them to alter the list and gain entrance to the entire network. This is a serious data breach, as they can gather information for identity theft.
3. Keyword filtering
As established earlier, keyword filtering is a common form of parental censorship. Parents and guardians can block certain keywords automatically or manually from their children.
4. Port number blacklisting
Port number blacklisting is another strategy that ISPs adopt to censor internet content. It involves blocking traffic based on its port numbers and transport protocol without considering IP addresses. This strategy does not limit ISPs to blocking only specific websites. It allows them to block applications.
5. Traffic shaping
Traffic shaping, also packet shaping, is a bandwidth usage regulation strategy that allows selected applications to load faster than others. It functions like split tunneling, permitting prioritized apps to function without experiencing network downtime or technical challenges. Meanwhile, other apps experience throttled connection.
6. Data packet filtering
Finally, packet filtering is another common form of internet censorship. Instead of examining keywords and domain names, firewalls utilize other criteria to determine content to filter. Some of them include:
- Network addresses
- Destination IP address
- Source IP address
The firewall typically filters content and information based on the destination and source IP. Loading a strange IP address may be impossible, as it only grants access to registered IP addresses.
Internet censorship around the world
Although internet censorship is a global concept relevant in virtually all countries, it comes in different forms and degrees.
Freedom House, a non-profit organization that creates awareness of freedom of expression and media freedom, ranks countries in order of their level of internet censorship annually.
Below, we list the countries with the strictest laws on censorship and those with lenient policies to give a quick idea about the ongoing situation.
Countries with lenient Internet censorship laws
Here are the top two countries with little to no internet censorship laws or policies:
- Canada: The second largest country in the world, Canada guarantees freedom of expression through and through. Internet users in Canada can publicize and access any content online, as there are no political, religious, or moral filters.
- Iceland: Iceland also upholds freedom of expression with only a few exceptions. In fact, it has laws that protect whistleblowers.
Countries with strict internet censorship laws
Examine the top two countries with the strictest internet censorship laws below:
- China: A common feature of China is the Great Wall. However, they also have the Great Firewall that regulates and controls internet use within Chinese territory. This firewall filters out and suppresses internet traffic and popular international services infiltrating the country. China has laws and utilizes technologies to ensure that people in the country only access what the government permits.
- Russia: Internet censorship in Russia became stricter after the COVID-19 pandemic that struck in 2020. For example, the Social Monitoring app in Moscow mandates residents to show and prove that they’re quarantining or face a punishment. Vladimir Putin’s government blocked many foreign websites and submitted that an attempt to achieve a “Sovereign Internet” could result in a complete prohibition of the Internet in Russia.
How to bypass internet censorship
You should note that there are ways to bypass censorship and enjoy freedom online. Online censorship cannot restrict you if you use the information below. We’ve provided a comprehensive list of ways to get around online censorship. Some of them require a subscription fee, while others are free. You can set them up within a few minutes to build your resistance against censorship.
1. Using VPNs
A VPN, short for virtual private network, is a service that provides a safe and encrypted online experience. Connecting your device to a reliable VPN service creates an encrypted tunnel to hide the websites you visit and your IP address. Your data traffic goes through an encrypted tunnel, so your ISP, law enforcement agencies, and other third parties cannot monitor your online activity. Since they cannot see your activity, you can easily get around geo-block and access prohibited content or information.
2. Use web proxies
A proxy functions like a VPN, concealing IP addresses and allowing users to enjoy internet freedom.
When you connect to a proxy server, it changes your IP address and conceals your data requests so that third parties cannot read it. A proxy’s encryption and IP masking services help you get around geo-restrictions and other internet censorship strategies.
3. Browse via a secure browser
A secure browser offers advanced security services beyond regular browsers. For example, the Tor Browser is a common secure browser.
They clear users’ cookies, hide their IP addresses, and wipe the browsing history immediately after users close the tab. Secure browsers provide triple encryption for user’s data traffic. So, if you use a secure browser, your safety is guaranteed when you open restricted websites.
4. Avoid using incognito mode
Most people use incognito mode because they think it’ll clear their browsing history once they close the tab. This is not entirely true because while you may not find the history on your device, your ISP can still monitor and track your online activities, especially if you don’t use a VPN.
You can enable the Incognito Mode to hide your web history from people who can access your device. However, if you want online privacy from your ISP or access geo-restricted content or websites, the Incognito Mode cannot help you.
Overview of statistics on Internet censorship
Technology is constantly changing the world and creating a new normal. It has largely changed how people communicate and share information.
According to Statista, over 60% of people worldwide use the Internet for educational, business, and recreational purposes as of April 2023. Most of those who haven’t jumped on the bandwagon, that is, the internet, are either elderly persons or children.
Generally, information can be a weapon and a shield, and unfiltered access to it can be dangerous. Hence, governments regulate websites and information to maintain order, national security, and moral principles.
Surfshark’s statistics reveal about 4.2 billion individuals felt the effect of internet censorship in 2022. Countries now have laws and policies regulating the circulation, use, and access to information and websites on the internet.
Internet censorship statistics by governments
Typically, the internet is a global system of networks. This means it’s designed for every connected device to share and receive information unhindered.
However, countries can enforce geo-restriction to suppress specific information, content, or websites within the borders. So, while internet users from other countries can access this content freely, those in countries where they’re restricted may be unable to access them– unless they use a VPN or proxy server.
Internet censorship is more pronounced in authoritarian countries, which are generally repressive. In countries where the government is not repressive towards the media and internet, they censor them heavily.
However, internet censorship is not limited to these countries. Other developed countries like the United Kingdom, France, and Belgium also have laws on internet censorship. For example, they restrict and ban websites with copyright issues and pornographic content.
Keeping this in view, we list the latest statistics on internet censorship by different governments.
1. Iceland ranks as the top country guaranteeing online freedom on the Freedom House Index.
The Human Freedom Index portrays the relationship between freedom and other social and economic events. The Index assigned points to different countries, observing their attitude and policies towards internet freedom.
Iceland emerged as the top country worldwide regarding freedom on the Internet with 95 points. China, on the other hand, ranked the least with only 10 points. China is notable for internet access suppression and violation. (Statista)
2. About 64% of internet users worldwide express concerns about Internet censorship from governments.
Only about 31% of internet users worldwide use the internet without restriction or suppression, while about 64% are affected by government censorship. For example, about 46% of the global population felt the effect of the government bans on Facebook since 2015.
Authoritarian countries like Jordan, Armenia, and Azerbaijan blocked Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook in 2022, while Uzbekistan and Pakistan blocked them in 2021. (Go Globe)
3. Turkey blocked over 450,000 websites in 2020.
The Turkish government has shut down over 450,000 websites since 2020. There’s more– they have blocked over 10,000 videos on YouTube, 140,000 URL addresses, and 40,000 messages on Twitter.
A censorship report by IFade in 2020 provided that in December 2020, Turkey had examined about 467,011 websites, which were suppressed by 408,8080 orders from 764 different establishments. (Article 19)
4. North Korea is one of the most censored countries worldwide, with over 6,000 trained hackers.
North Korea has a primary tool called “Kwangmyong” for filtering websites and content on the internet. Kwangmyong (meaning “bright star”) is North Korea’s “walled garden” intranet service with up to 5,000 regulated websites covering culture, economy, science, and national politics. The technology blocks VPNs and prevents access to social media and pornographic content. (Vox)
Iran is another country with strict censorship regulations. The government restricts almost 84 million residents from using the internet. While the government permits torrenting, it prohibits using foreign VPNs in the country. The Iranian government heavily controls social media platforms like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. (BBC)
5. 73% of Americans are aware of the rights that the First Amendment protects.
The United States First Amendment protects the citizens of the United States of America from government censorship. Hence, when the government censors the internet, it breaches the liberties provided in the First Amendment.
It’s important to note that the First Amendment is not absolute. This has resulted in many lawsuits and legal opinions in the Supreme Court. Consequently, there are tests and rules to determine whether a speech or content should enjoy legal protection. (Penn Today)
6. The Great Firewall has helped China block thousands of websites.
China is famous for its solid internet filtration system, “The Great Firewall.” The system has blocked about 8,000 domains and websites to protect its citizens from international influence and manipulative and destructive information. China has blocked access to Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, Pinterest, and Flicker.
Besides blocking popular blogging and streaming sites, the filtering system prevents access to many email services, search engines, messaging apps, and cloud storage. People in China also miss out on popular video games like Pokémon Go and Animal Crossing.
Countries often ban websites and apps because of non-compliance to the government’s privacy and data collection policies, content moderation, and user safety. (Sapore Di Cina)
7. Two-thirds of internet users live in countries with internet censorship laws.
About 67% of internet users live in countries where statements or ideas criticizing the government, ruling family, or military are subject to regulatory measures. This accounts for two-thirds of people who use the internet. (Freedom House)
Internet censorship statistics by schools
Most people use the internet to gather information for academic or research purposes. It has developed a reputation as the richest source of information utilized by most students globally.
Academic institutions are now utilizing the Internet to improve and deliver quality education. E-learning gained its much-deserved recognition in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The switch to online learning was so massive that the global e-learning industry is projected to exceed $325 billion by 2025.
Schools regulate internet usage by filtering content to ensure that students optimize the internet for solely academic purposes while in classrooms.
Below are statistics showing how academic institutions view online censorship.
8. The internet gained about 300 million new users in 2021.
In 2021, internet use expanded significantly, with about 300 million new users beginning their online experience. This addition accounted for 7.6% annual user growth. A report shows that 1.4 million users open different social media websites daily.
The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 largely contributed to this significant addition. Countries’ lockdown and movement restrictions forced schools to adopt online learning and businesses to introduce work-from-home arrangements. (We Are Social)
9. About 60% of Turkish teachers believe internet censorship is essential in educational institutions.
According to a 2018 study, about 60.5% of Turkish teachers in primary and secondary schools support internet censorship. They believe restricting specific content from children can prevent harmful and inappropriate content from infiltrating the educational system.
About 86.6% have dissenting opinions. They argue that blocking websites means denying students access to potential learning materials. Students require effective time management skills to improve their grades and enjoy the academic benefits of the Internet – about 87% of Turkish teachers share this opinion. (Semantic Scholar)
Internet censorship trends statistics
Many people engage in campaigns and actions to convince the government to make the Internet a basic human right for everyone. Should these campaigns be successful, the internet might as well be free and accessible for everyone, like in Estonia, Iceland, and Canada.
The internet has become a veritable part of our lives. Over half of the world’s population uses the Internet for personal and official purposes. Safe to say, without the internet, many people would miss out on educational and job opportunities.
Several trends have emerged from internet use, some negative and some positive. Human rights activists and concerned individuals have advocated for freedom of expression and condemned government activities aimed at controlling, monitoring, and criminalizing legitimate expressions.
Examine statistics that portray the trends in internet censorship worldwide below.
10. Internet censorship and suppression cost the world economy $5.5 billion in 2021.
In 2021, censorship activities of different governments summed up to $5.5 billion of the world economy. These activities include bandwidth limiting, internet prohibition, and social media ban. Per the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an 80% increase in the number of people affected by internet censorship between 2020 and 2021. (Business Insider)
11. About 3.8 billion people worldwide can access the internet.
Although 3.8 billion people use the internet, 56% reside in countries regulating religious, social, or political content. The governments ensure they don’t have access to provocative content and ideologies.
In comparison, about 41% reside in countries where the government prevents access to the internet because of political situations. And finally, 46% of people live in areas where the government blocks social networking services temporarily or permanently. (Freedom House)
12. About 4.2 billion internet users felt the impact of internet censorship in 2022.
Internet censorship increased in 2022 as governments doubled their efforts and strategies and utilized new technologies to regulate the use and access to the Internet. About 4.2 billion people felt the impact of this development.
About 32 different countries enforced 112 restrictions on the internet. Countries like India, Russia, the Jammu and Kashmir region, and Iran gained worldwide attention for their social media interruptions and frequent suppressive actions. Nonetheless, statistics reveal many other countries also enforce internet censorship within their territories.
Numerous internet users have expressed their displeasure in response to these restrictive measures. For instance, in 2022, the Chinese government received backlash from the Chinese people. They protested against the strict censorship actions by raising blank sheets of paper in their demonstrations. (Surfshark)
13. Only about 24% of internet users can use the internet freely.
Countries have different laws when it comes to internet censorship. For example, while Russia has strict censorship laws, internet users in Ireland enjoy significant freedom. Research revealed that 24% of internet users could access the internet without restriction, 29% had only partial access, and 35% could not.
However, internet users in countries with strict censorship laws often use VPNs to bypass the restrictions. The VPN conceals their location and encrypts their data traffic. Others that don’t use VPNs use proxies to get around geographical restrictions. (World Economic Forum)
In many cases, restricting content on the internet constitutes a breach of the freedom of expression, even though governments may have valid reasons for censoring them. For example, blocking social media websites meant for communication prevents users from exchanging information and opinions on different matters.
The internet, if not regulated, can be a useful tool for insurrection, apathy, and conformism, as citizens consume unfiltered opinions and theories of the government without researching the validity. Instead, they become provocative and rebellious.
Hence, censorship is essential to maintain social order and moral principles. However, you must be alert to identify when internet censorship becomes an abuse of power.
Internet censorship constitutes a form of breach of freedom of expression. The restriction of internet users’ ideas and speech on the internet is an infringement of the constitutionally guaranteed right.
Governments utilize several techniques to suppress internet content and ban websites and social media platforms. A common strategy is IP address blocking. ISPs prevent access to unregistered IP addresses or port numbers. Other strategies include data packet filtering and traffic shaping.
Social media censorship is a form of internet censorship. It involves restricting people from sharing or commenting on posts, removing comments or posts, or preventing access to a social media platform.
Internet censorship is vital to maintain national security and order. However, governments must be proportionate in censoring the internet, as extreme measures may be oppressive.
Connect to a reliable VPN or proxy server to avoid internet censorship and enjoy online freedom. You can also use secure browsers like Tor to get around firewalls.