Take a look in the mirror: How users can circumvent online censorship
Online censorship is a common issue in many countries around the world, but more and more tools are coming to the forefront, with mirrors being a particularly common choice.
One of the great feats of the Internet is its ability to provide information to numerous people around the world. In countries where online activity can occur with relatively little control, this can an extremely useful tool for anything from school work to research to general curiosity. Not every bit of information is positive on the Internet – unfortunately, there is content out there that paints numerous people and organizations in a bad light.
Part of this includes articles that are critical of various governments. For instance, Russia's recent invasion of Crimea has drawn criticism from a number of different groups around the world. In China, past and present actions, like the Tiananmen Square Massacre, have been the subject of much criticism. Unfortunately, if someone in either of these countries were to research the actions of their respective governments, they would not necessarily be able to have access to accurate information about these events.
Because the Internet can provide almost unlimited access to various opinions on these topics, many governments are concerned about how it can shape public opinion among citizens. The pervasiveness of the Internet and its ability to mobilize the people can be seen in many events around the world, such as the Arab Spring.
These governments are scared of the power that the Internet can give its citizens, and as a result, many have instated extensive censorship programs to control public opinion. In China, for instance, everything from Facebook to the New York Times is blocked. Further, netizens and bloggers can even be arrested for the kind of content that they post, such as Chinese blogger Ai Wei Wei.
Bypassing the censors
Fortunately, enough people are aware of the extensive censorship measures that are carried out in these countries, that numerous citizens have been able to create solutions to work around Internet censors. Global Voices Online reported that while many of these tools require strong technological skills, like Tor, VPN and proxy servers, another strategy is emerging in Russia that is accessible to people with even a basic understanding of the Internet.
Mirrors work by effectively undoing censorship attempts. The news source noted that a website that is blocked by the government can circumvent its ban by redirecting ISPs to another site that is not blocked by the government, like a government website itself. In many cases, the redirected site then becomes blocked as well. But if it is a government site, this ban obviously needs to be lifted, and in the process the ban on the redirecting site is as well.
A different variation on this strategy is used in China. Time Magazine reported that one can effectively build a copy of a blocked website. These websites are then hosted by Amazon Web Services, or similar hosting companies. If the government wanted to take down these sites, it would effectively need to shutdown these companies themselves. But shutting down Amazon in such a large country like China could be a devastating blow to the economy.
There is still a lot of progress that needs to be made. Simply because these strategies exist does not mean they are being utilized to the best of their ability. If one is not aware that mirror websites exist, he or she cannot access them out of a simple lack of awareness. However, censorship circumvention efforts continue to grow, hopefully more people will be able to access a wider range of content beyond what is specifically approved by the government.