Big Brothers and Big Mamas: Global Censorship of the Internet

Many governments around the globe have stepped in to limit the internet content available to their citizens and to police internet users.  Certainly, the internet poses crime risks for all countries—hackers trying to slip into people’s bank accounts abound.  Like anywhere, the potential for committing crime exists on the internet.  On the other hand, many countries deem speech a crime if it is critical of the government.  

Censorship exists at the national level of many nations and they each have some compelling methods for tamping down on what people can say or see on the internet.

In November 2012, Russia made headlines by enacting censorship laws aimed at “journalists and bloggers,” according to Forbes.  The Russian government has stated that these new laws target “extremist” sites that may include content on drugs or suicide or worse.  However, critics point out that this is merely the latest batch of restrictions imposed by Russia’s government; many other limits already exist beyond the new ones that seek to “blacklist” websites.  The Guardian reports that the “vaguely worded law could be manipulated to crack down on the Russian internet.”  In a country where Orwellian Big Brothers reigned supreme merely a few decades ago, few people seemed surprised by the passing of these new laws.

With their “Bamboo Firewall” as it’s been dubbed, Vietnam has a reputation for internet censorship.  Vietnam has clamped down on government criticism and human rights sites.  Deemed an “internet enemy” by Reporters without Borders, Vietnam asserts that it is outlawing obscene websites; however, watch groups insist that the government has targeted websites that contain political or religious content.  OpenNet Initiative described Vietnam’s censorship of “social” areas of the internet as “selective” while their filtering of political content is “pervasive.”

Although Ethiopia has one of the lowest internet penetration rates in Africa, it also has some of the strictest internet control.  The irony, of course, is that the nation’s constitution guarantees “free access to the press and free access to information.”  According to OpenNet Initiative, most of the government’s censorship efforts are aimed at independent news agencies, blogs, political criticism, and even human rights websites.  Political bloggers, in particular, don’t stand much chance of getting past the censors.  Critics also note that organizations representing the country’s ethnic minorities are blocked.  Fortunately, the government still allows internet access to sites like CNN and Voice of America.

Of course, China takes the cake with their “50,000” internet police, according to NPR in 2012.  Their censorship activities—known as the Great Firewall of China—have been deemed more advanced and comprehensive than anywhere else on earth.  The government’s efforts to censor sensitive or offensive internet content are aided by the internet host providers themselves who face being shut down if anything untoward goes on during their watch.  For this reason alone, many internet hosts have hired big mamas, as they are termed, to sit in chat rooms and forums simply to remove any potentially risky comments.

Other Countries that Censor the Internet Extensively
Few will be surprised to note that Iran and Saudi Arabia filter internet content extensively.  In Saudi Arabia, in particular, religious websites that espouse something different than the royal-preferred Wahabi Islam is banned.  Naturally, websites that include content about sex education are also banned (and just forget about viewing any sites containing pornography or gambling content).  Nations like Syria, Yemen, Burma, and Armenia are also known to employ their internet filters with a heavy hand.  Ironically, as internet penetration rates begin to rise around the globe, more and more headlines regarding internet censorship pop up too.

Author Bio:
Sam Jones, the author, thinks that broadband is incredible but that there are a number of problems with not censoring some aspects of the internet.
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