In America, the Internet is largely used as an extension of the freedom of speech. Through the use of blogs and online media, we can easily access or share information. If you lived in China or Cuba, however, it is unlikely that you would be able to read this article. Some countries restrict access to Wikipedia and YouTube, while others use fear of imprisonment and torture to promote self-censorship. In the following lines of free expression, we will take a look at some of the worst Internet censors in the world.
Ah, yes, look to your left and you will see The Great Firewall of China. Possibly the best-known Internet censor, China has banned all social networking sites (yes, tweets are unheard of there) and has created cyber-police to monitor and track potential internet “abusers.”
Although the Chinese government claims that it bans sites such as Facebook and YouTube in order to protect its minors from scams and Internet pornography, it also blocks international news sites and filters its search engines. Google threatened to leave China in 2010 due to Internet censorship, but decided to stay. Today, a Google search for the word “freedom” in China will reap 0 results in .01 seconds.
But in China, Google falls behind the search engine Baidu, where the number one result for a “freedom” search is a wiki-card with information on Akon’s solo album. No joke. Try it.
As well as filtering searches for “America” and “Tiananmen Square,” the Chinese government has been known to shut down the Internet for entire regions when it suspects communication capabilities will result in protests. Rest assured that if small business ecommerce software exists in China, it is tracked, along with internet searches and users’ personal information.
If you are shaking your finger at the Chinese government for cutting the Internet in some areas, you will be shaking your fist at the Iranian government, which kills the Internet for the entire country on culturally significant days, fearing political protests.
Iranian bloggers have been arrested for crimes against the state or against Islam (there is no separation between church and state in Iran), and a few have received the death penalty. If you want to move to Iran and start a blog, you better leave matters of religion and politics out of it and settle for posts about outdoor cooking, user-friendly small business ecommerce software, or the best places to watch the sunset in Tehran.
In 2008, Raul Castro lifted the cellphone and laptop ban throughout Cuba. This was the cause of many hoorahs, until it became clear that only 2% of the country could actually access the Internet.
Private Internet connections are more or less forbidden there, and you can find yourself facing a five-year sentence if you get caught connecting illegally. Try using ecommerce software or social media there to grow your business. You are better off hiring a sign twirler with a megaphone.
Public Internet servers, commonly called Internet cafés, allow citizens of Cuba to connect to the Internet for $6-12 an hour. That doesn’t sound like too bad of a deal, until you realize that your computer screen is being monitored by government officials who could arrest you at any moment if you violate their cyber-rules.
It is no wonder that online companies and small businesses haven’t taken off there, as by the time you code your site’s business, your company would be bankrupt from Internet charges and you would be thrown behind bars to make friends with other enemies of the state.
Dan Peel is a UCLA graduate with a degree in journalism.