The latest website to be blocked in China is the entertainment, social networking, and news website reddit, which was blocked a few days ago but now appears to be accessible, though it’s not clear whether or not this is a matter of the obstruction needing to propagate across the network before being banned outright.
China’s Ministry of Public Security are responsible for blocking websites they consider to be an external threat to privacy and traditional Chinese values. On Monday this week reddit was inaccessible for servers in mainland territories in China, though not Hong Kong. Users in China can check whether or not websites are accessible at BlockedinChina.net, which also informs you in which provinces websites are blocked and whether or not sites are accessible on the mainland.
In the case of reddit there is a sense of irony, since the site itself has come under criticism for blocking subreddits on its websites because of problems with spam, trolling, and abuse. The main concern is that some sections on reddit are dedicated to harassing and abusing groups of people, though site administrators are evidently cracking down. Reddit has also blocked non-consensual sexual content, including naked pictures and videos.
Censorship in China
Aside from reddit, China has already blocked popular social networking, streaming, and various other websites, including Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Reuters, The New York Times, Yahoo, WordPress, xVideos, xHamster, The Pirate Bay, DropBox, Vimeo, SoundCloud, Ustream, Wikileaks, DuckDuckGo, OpenVPN, and numerous others. Critics are calling China’s widespread blocking of websites “The Great Firewall of China”. Many are suggesting that the “firewall” is used to restrict external influence, though others believe that this approach is detrimental to Chinese business because of the suppression of new ideas and the lack of cohesion with overseas business clients. Some have suggested that China’s culture of imitation – mass producing products using inexpensive labor and materials – requires urgent innovation if Chinese business is to thrive, though others might argue that China’s stronghold over production in the global economy is itself a form of innovation.
According to several source, internet and press censorship, as well as the intimidation of journalists, have increased under President Xi Jinping, who came to power in 2013. Aside from his role as president, Xi is also the General Secretary of the Communist Party and the Chairman of the Central Military Commission. Since his inauguration, he has imposed tight restrictions over ideological discourse, and many expect China’s tough approach to online censorship to continue while he is in power.
Wayback Machine Blocked in Russia
In Russia last week the government blocked the nostalgia-inducing internet archive project the Wayback Machine. The internet archive is a non-profit organization based in San Francisco that began as an internet library in 1996. Its primary purpose is to archive websites, and according to its about page “Its purposes include offering permanent access for researchers, historians, scholars, people with disabilities, and the general public to historical collections that exist in digital format.”
The archive was most likely blocked by Russia’s Attorney General as a result of a new government policy that involves cracking down on websites with alleged extremist content. According to the censorship monitoring website Rublacklist.net, which is run by the Russian Pirate Party, police targeted the Wayback Machine because of an archived webpage called “Solitary Jihad in Russia,” a short text that claims to provide information about the “theory and practice of partisan resistance.” Rublacklist say that the offending page in the archive was added to Russia’s official registry of banned websites on June 23, but because the archive uses HTTPS, Russian ISPs will have to block the entire website in order to comply with the blacklisting, since encrypted traffic won’t allow them to differentiate between different pages of the same site.
This latest block comes amid other news last month when Russia’s media authority, Roskomnadzor, warned Facebook, Google, Twitter, and others that their domains would be blacklisted if they fail to comply with the country’s tight regulation that requires bloggers with more than 3,000 daily readers to reveal their legitimate identities.
To date, the Wayback Machine has archived an impressive 485 billion websites, yet this is only a slither of the volume recorded by Google, which boasted 30 trillion archived websites as long ago as 2013. By banning internet archives, the Russian government is denying its citizens access to a digital record of what has been, which because of the ephemeral nature of the digital format is a valuable resource for online users.
VPNs in China and Russia
Many large VPN providers have been blacklisted in China by the Ministry of Public Security, which is well aware of the technical application of basic VPNs and proxies, including loopholes and backdoors. The use of VPNs in China is not technically illegal, but VPNs are actively blocked by the government-enforced firewall. Luckily, there are ways around this problem. Because China is increasingly strengthening its firewall, VPN providers are evolving quickly by creating and utilising highly effective technology to render the firewall useless. Some providers offer mirror URLs for customers to be able to access their websites from restrictive locations. Another option is to look for a provider whose website is not blocked. Because of the vast range of VPN providers, there are often many alternatives from which to choose. Have a read of our Best VPN for China guide for more information.
The use of VPNs in Russia also faces similar obstacles, though as ever, there are ways around the increasingly rigid legislation surrounding allegedly dangerous content, streaming services, and websites considered harmful in their influence. In 2014, the Russian government masqueraded the tightening of digital regulation as a counter-terrorism measure, though because of the sheer array of VPN providers it’s not difficult to find one that will work well in Russia. The majority of large as well as medium VPN providers already offer at least one server location in Russia. Although most commonly placed in Russia’s capital Moscow, some services likewise have endpoints in Saint Petersburg and even in Siberia, on the Asian side of the country.