Monday, 11 June 2018

Why Governments Censor Instagram and How to Get Around it

Image result for instagram
Instagram has been quietly gaining an audience for years thanks to the growing popularity of mobile obsession.   Famous for its users sharing photos and videos on Android and iOS devices alike, it is not hard to assume that Instagram will keep growing.  After all, who wouldn’t make an account and start sharing their videos and photos. 

Unfortunately, not everyone who wants an Instagram account can make one because of internet censorship that exist globally.  In this article, we hope to address the ways three authoritarian regimes in the world censors Instagram and how we can get around it.

Where is Instagram Censored?

So why do certain governments censor Instagram?  The answer is simple: restricting the flow of information.  This helps authoritarian regimes stay in power by keeping their citizens ignorant

Out of all of the world’s regimes, perhaps one is the most famous for internet censorship: The People’s Republic of China.  China is run by the Chinese Communist Party which had begun systematically censoring online information since 2009 as a continuation of the its propaganda department.   This moved to encompass Instagram in 2014 after the social media platform was used by democracy activists in Hong Kong to host and broadcast their protests to others within mainland China.  While still accessible in Hong Kong and Macau (which are Special Administrative Regions and not part of the mainland), Instagram has been blocked in Mainland China, alongside other digital platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and Google

This form of censorship (blocking access to the platform) is echoed by Iran.  As a theocratic regime, Iran has practiced large scale censorship and propaganda since its revolution in the late 1970s.  Like China, political activists use various social media channels to spread information among themselves and each other.  This is particularly frightening because similar revolutions in the Middle East led to the toppling of several dictatorships in the Arab Spring.  Hence, using the excuse that social media platforms “encourage hateful conduct”, different social media channels including Instagram has been blocked. 

Unfortunately, there is another form of internet censorship used by authoritarian regimes: requesting corporations to self-censor in exchange for their continued existence.  This is seen with Instagram use in Russia where Instagram has begun censoring videos by their opposition parties, namely anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny.  Youtube, on the other hand, had declined doing so refusing to give in to censorship demands risking a ban in order to fight internet censorship.  Still, it remains possible that censorship will worsen in Russia and leave Instagram completely blocked like it is in Iran and China.

How to Get Around Censorship?

Looking at the internet censorship in Iran and China, the solution is very simple.  Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the country block access to Instagram (and other sites that the regimes find threatening) by tracing a user’s IP.  Essentially, if you can disguise or spoof an IP from another location (outside of the country in question), you would be able to get around the blocked access.

Proxy servers and Virtual Private Networks are perhaps the most important of these.  Both allow one to access content outside of their home country by spoofing your IP.  However, the biggest difference the level of encryption.  Proxy servers do not always encrypt your traffic while VPNs would form a secure tunnel around your traffic thereby guaranteeing the security of your connection.  Hence, while proxies may be a cheaper alternative, the criminalization of accessing the content means VPNs are the safer options.  After all, VPNs can ensure the government cannot see what you are doing.

However, it is very important to choose the right VPN provider for unblocking Instagram.  For example, you should take a careful look at whether the provider keeps logs.  Any VPN provider that keeps logs would be able to provide these logs to the government.  This has been seen with VPN providers such as IPVanish and PureVPN who kept customer logs and lied about it, then collaborated with governments to arrest their own users.  The other side of the coin are providers like ExpressVPN which lived up to their no log policy when Turkish authorities were unable to find any user logs even after capturing one of their servers.

The situation in Russia is a little different.  At the moment, there is simply no way to get around corporate censorship.  The situation is very similar to Apple supporting Chinese censorship and removing VPN apps from the iOS playstore in China in hopes of expanding their business there.  

The only way to ensure this does not continue is by holding the corporations accountable.  If users remain quiet as the government increasingly encroaches on information available on the internet, corporations and authoritarian regimes will simply work together to erode your freedoms.  By then, it would be too late.

1 comment:

  1. I am using PureVPN to secure open/public wifi hotspots. As far as logs are concerned be clean and no one will share your information.


Kindly drop your comments and also follow
Twitter: @opecareem
Instagram: @opecareem