New Report: Asia Leads ‘Concerning’ Global Trend Towards Internet Censorship

LONDON — China, North Korea, Iran and several other nations on the Asian continent lead the global trend towards increased censorship of internet content — including blanket bans on “pornography” — according to a new study by cybersecurity research firm Comparitech titled, “Internet Censorship 2021: A Global Map of Internet Restrictions.”

“In this exploratory study, our researchers have conducted a country-by-country comparison to see which countries impose the harshest internet restrictions and where citizens can enjoy the most online freedom,” the introduction states. “This includes restrictions or bans for torrenting, pornography, social media, and VPNs, and restrictions or heavy censorship of political media.”

Each country received a score based on six different criteria, gaining one point if the content — torrents, pornography, news media, social media, VPNs, messaging/VoIP apps — is restricted but accessible, and two points if it is banned entirely.

“The higher the score, the more censorship,” the report explains.

The Worst Countries for Internet Censorship

The worst countries for internet censorship are North Korea and China, which received 11 censorship points out of a possible 11. Iran follows the two most content-restrictive nations in the world with 10 points. Belarus, Turkmenistan and the United Arab Emirates follow with eight points each, joined this year by Qatar, Syria and post-coup Thailand, all of which tightened their censorship by banning pornography, heavily censoring political media, and restricting social media and the use of VPNs.

The report mentions that Thailand “saw the biggest increase in censorship, including the introduction of an online porn ban which saw 190 adult websites being taken down. This included Pornhub (which featured as one of the top 20 most-visited websites in the country in 2019).”

Thailand is one of three countries singled out for deliberately heightening their censorship between 2020 and 2021, with the others being Guinea and Greece.

A Worldwide Trend Towards Content Restriction

In Europe, Ukraine now restricts online pornography, while Belarus and Turkey ban or block adult content entirely.

In the Americas, Cuba is the only country to restrict online pornography, heavily censor its political media and restrict VPNs.

The report found that the majority of Asian countries have restrictions on online pornography — 40 out of the 49 covered, or 82% percent, with 27 of these having full bans or blocks.

Fourteen African countries “have restrictions when it comes to online pornography with four of these having full bans — Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Tanzania and Uganda. New regulations in Tanzania further defined pornography as a type of ‘prohibited content.’”

Australia and Papua New Guinea also have laws placing restrictions on online pornography, with the Australian Broadcasting Service Act 1992 ostensibly outlawing “watching internet porn” as a “fineable offense.”

“However,” the report notes, “only some towns and cities have tried to establish a full ban. Australia’s Online Content Bill, which is expected to come into law soon, also threatens to further restrict access to online porn in the country.”

The 2021 Comparitech report sounds the alarm about a global trend towards more internet censorship. “While it’s no great surprise to see the likes of China, Russia and North Korea topping the list,” the report concluded, “the growing number of restrictions in many other countries is greatly concerning.”

To review the 2021 Comparitech report on global censorship, click here.

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