The Plight Of Internet Censorship And Global Attacks On Free Speech

Blockchain, Opinion | July 8, 2019 By:

To date, China is one of the top jailers of journalists in the world. According to CPJ’s 2018 prison census, there are about 47 journalists currently in Chinese prisons for charges ranging from anti-state rhetoric to blatant separatism.

In total, there are 250 journalists imprisoned globally with high concentrations in Turkey (68), Egypt (25), Eritrea (16) and Saudi Arabia (16). Still, China remains the poster child for government censorship.

While many of us in the Western World benefit from a more liberal and open information sharing, elsewhere sources like the Internet are more restricted, centralized and regulated. For instance, just last month, Russia took steps to gain further control over the Internet by establishing a bill to route web traffic through filters controlled by Roskomnadzor, the state communications watchdog.

Information is power. To that end, blockchain provides a viable alternative for accessing information. Consequently, decentralized ledger technology could disrupt global powers whose strength predicates on censorship.


  • Free Speech

In the United States, free speech is viewed as an inalienable right. The Founding Fathers built protections into the government’s constitution to ensure that these rights are never infringed upon. However, this isn’t necessarily a shared ideal globally, and many governments see free/open information as a threat to progress.

In several countries, separatist ideologies can carry a life prison sentence. These countries tend to value the collective more than the individual. Culturally, those who resist the collective are viewed as unwanted disrupters, and their free speech is not as valued as the integrity of society. Unfortunately, this often means that those in political power, or those with the most wealth, can shape their country’s direction for good or bad with little oversight. Often, heavy censorship is a repressive tool that gives rise to dictatorships.

  • Internet

Political ideologies aside, it is doubtful any nations’ founding fathers could ever conceptualize the massive information sharing tool that is the Internet. An interconnected global system that indexes the bulk of human knowledge is certainly the zenith of free speech and knowledge.

But the internet has a critical shortcoming in terms of censorship. Because of the way we structure data on the internet, browsers must explore relatively centralized repositories of information. The query function, which helps individuals explore web pages via IP Addresses, presents a manageable choke point where political entities can filter and censor information they don’t want in the mainstream population.

  • Web3

Web3 is often referenced as a catch-all for the next evolutionary stage of the Internet.

The internet today does not resemble its original form, a cobbled together network of computers, but instead represents a largely centralized system remotely accessed by participants. According to The New Yorker, “Google now controls nearly ninety per cent of search advertising, Facebook almost eighty per cent of mobile social traffic, and Amazon about seventy-five per cent of e-book sales.”

While the central access might be convenient for the bulk of the population, it comes with a critical shortcoming; censorship at scale. Governments can easily impose digital embargos on websites, filter information and serve users only rhetoric that drives state-based agendas.

To combat this, free speech advocates believe that the immutable and decentralized ledger of blockchain can offer a disruptive and necessary platform to host information permanently, without censorship. Blockchains provide pure global networks that are systematically redundant. By nature, blockchains can not be shut down by central authorities. Similarly, blockchains provide a level of anonymity and protection that can allow users to present information without fear of repercussion.

While many experts tout concepts like semantic web, AI, better graphics and faster speeds as the foundation of Web3. Those in the blockchain community anticipate a complete restructure of web hosting in which the power of information hosting/sharing is given back to the users that comprise the Internet.

What Role Do Blockchain Domains Play in The Future Internet?

Traditional domains work quite well for most websites and people who use the internet. But sometimes, domains can be seized in order to silence a particular group or business. This is possible because the current domain system is one where custodians hold domains on behalf of users. Godaddy stores your domain and can freeze it, just like a bank that holds your money. A government request can easily shut down a website, nearly anywhere in the world.

Blockchain domains make all of this impossible because the user controls the domain and stores it in their wallet – just like a cryptocurrency. Content for websites will be stored on a decentralized storage network and then linked to the domain. Someone can visit a decentralized website simply by downloading a chrome extension and then typing the blockchain domain into a browser. Blockchain domains like those offered by Unstoppable Domains can provide an internet experience similar to the current internet in almost every way. Except there’s one important distinction – no one other than the creator can take a website down. This technology will usher in a new era of free speech around the world. People everywhere can publish and transact on the internet without fear of censorship.