In 2011, Jonathon Keats wrote an article in Wired Magazine entitled “Why Wikipedia Is as Important as the Pyramids.” He argued that Wikipedia’s impact, due to its scale and reach, was as important as the Pyramids or Stonehenge. However, there are certain governments that see Wikipedia is as a threat to their core values.
A turning point in Wikipedia’s history came in 2015, when it decided to migrate from HTTP to HTTPS. HTTPS is the communications protocol used for payment transactions. It uses encryption to protect against “man in the middle” attacks. The move meant that it became impossible for countries like China and Turkey to block specific Wikipedia pages. Unsurprisingly, the move was not received with open arms by every country. Governments had to choose between censoring all of Wikipedia or none of it.
The Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard recently analyzed 15 different countries with a history of censorship. The results since 2015 have been very encouraging. It was able to conclude that,
“On balance, there is less censorship happening now than before the transition to HTTPS-only content delivery in June 2015. This initial data suggests the decision to shift to HTTPS has been a good one in terms of ensuring accessibility to knowledge.”
Based on the most recent reports, China and Turkey are the only countries that comprehensively censor Wikipedia.
Is Wikipedia Blocked in China?
Internet users in China struggle to gain access to Chinese Wikipedia content. This will continue to be the case until China launches its own version in 2019, according to the BBC. China has hired 20,000 people to produce 300,000 entries of roughly 1,000 words in length. Yang Muzhi, head of the Book and Periodicals Distribution Association of China, reports that China is focusing on creating an encyclopedia that is best for its public and society. This is a nice way of saying that the Chinese government wants to know what you are viewing at all times. Anything else will not be tolerated.
Censorship on the Rise
In 2017, Reuters reported that China had boosted its censorship of films, blogs, and educational content. It plans to shut down all sites that don't to adhere to “core socialist standards.” As part of the process, the government-backed China Netcasting Services Association has released its new internet posting regulations. Auditors will determine whether content fits with the societal vision. The initiative covers both foreign and domestic sites.
Why Is Censorship so Important in China?
There is no simple answer to this question. Throughout its history, China has been consistently imperialistic. It does not feel it can accomplish world dominance in a democratic state. The Chinese government uses the internet to distribute an enormous amount of content about itself and the glory of its empire. It seeks to ban any content that is contrary to this messaging. The government goes to great lengths to avoid empowering critics of “The Party.” It is a master at using the internet to distract the attention of the public away from the areas where it is vulnerable. It instead deflects citizens to areas where it can shine brightly.
In China today, the government encourages the distribution of content about patriotism, the glorious motherland, flattering historical material, filial piety, and generous patrons helping the poor. You cannot distribute material related to religion, insults about China, explicit violence, sexual promiscuity, gambling, genitalia, smoking, killing endangered animals, and foul language. If you violate these rules, then the mighty sword will fall and the government will shut down your website.
What Can I Do?
If you are located within the bounds of the Great Firewall of China, but require more perspective than the Chinese government is willing to give you, check out the 5 Best VPN for China in 2019.
Is Wikipedia Blocked in Turkey?
In April, the Turkish government demanded that Wikipedia remove two English pages describing Turkey’s relationship with Syrian militants and state-sponsored terrorists. Turkey has regularly blocked Wikipedia articles since 2008, according to the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. However, it had never blocked the entire Wikipedia site - until now. Yes, Turkey has joined China in an elite and dubious club.
The Erdogan machine has succeeded in blocking Wikipedia. However, there is evidence of “mirror” sites popping up from those who don't want Turkey to become like China. For example, the Inter-Planetary File System (IPFS) is built on a peer-to-peer hosting network. The decentralized network is tough to censor. It offers screenshots rather than dynamic versions of the content. IPFS carried out the entire effort without the help of the Wikimedia Foundation.
Why Is Censorship so Important in Turkey?
On 15 July 2016, a faction of the Turkish Armed Forces devised a plan to overthrow President Erdogan. The attempt was unsuccessful, but it did succeed in making Erdogan even more paranoid than he was before. Then, at the referendum election on 16 April, Erdogan won a narrow victory and secured a position that resembles an autocrat more than a duly elected president.
Despite his sweeping powers, Erdogan knows that he and his administration are skating on thin ice. They must quash dissent if they are to avoid another coup d'état attempt.
What Can I Do?
Due to the highly volatile situation in Turkey, the best bet for those who want to read unfiltered content is to access The Best VPNs for Turkey 2019.
The move from HTTP to HTTPS in 2015 resulted in a global reduction of censorship. However, nations now realize that it is an “all or nothing” game with Wikipedia (and many other sites). China and Turkey cannot stomach losing control of content shown to their citizens. Thus they choose to ban all Wikipedia content. While China is trying to replace Wikipedia with its own version, the viability of this is questionable, given how digitally connected our world has become. Meanwhile, Turkey is on life support and Erdogan wants everyone to believe that censorship is in the best interest of the country. Unfortunately, the situation not likely to improve anytime soon.
The real concern is whether more countries will join China and Turkey in blocking sites like Wikipedia. Governments have been censoring content for as far back as history can recall, so it is plausible that other countries will block sites that offer information that strays from their official narrative. We are living in a different world now, however. None of us lives on a digital island. While governments may have resources, they are not comprehensive.
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