Websites That You Regularly Use May Be Blocked In China
As United States citizens, the concepts of free speech and free market economy are ingrained in our cultural identity. Most of us would be outraged if the government shut down a popular, privately-owned social media platform. In China “The Great Firewall” is a reality, and many popular U.S. websites are blocked. Earlier this year, the Chinese government added virtual pinboard platform Pinterest to their list of banned websites.
Which Websites are Blocked?
In addition to Pinterest, China has blocked several other American social media websites. Google and all its apps (Gmail, Youtube, etc.) have a long history with Chinese censorship. At first it was blocked altogether, but in 2006, Google agreed to produce a sanitized Chinese version that would meet with the government’s approval. Only four years later, Google left the market after the government hacked Gmail accounts of Chinese activists. After that, Google redirected Chinese traffic to Hong Kong and temporarily gave up on the market. Google is still trying to return since they recently posted job opportunities in China, and proposed an Android app that would abide by government censorship.
Facebook was blocked in 2009 right after riots occurred in the territory of Xinjiang. CEO Mark Zuckerberg hopes to win back China, and experts predict that he will succeed. However, the Chinese version would only allow local users. China blocked Instagram in 2014 due to protests in Hong Kong. Some of the app was brought back but the majority of images still don’t load. Twitter was blocked in 2011 and a local version filled the void. The list of blocked websites also includes Flickr and Dropbox.
It’s worth noting that the enormous list isn’t set in stone, meaning a website blocked today might not be blocked tomorrow.
Why Does This Happen and How Can I Get Around It?
Preventing the spread of government hate speech is a big reason for online censorship, but it’s not the only reason. Chinese officials sometimes intervene when a foreign website competes with a local counterpart. This is the case for Pinterest and the aforementioned Twitter. In particular, Pinterest is a harmless bookmark-gathering website where users share their favorite things. It’s not used for planning events like Facebook, so it appears that the motivation was more economical than political.
If you’re visiting China and need to stay plugged in, there’s still hope. Many people traveling to China acquire a VPN, or Virtual Private Network, before they leave. VPNs cloak your wireless signal so it looks like you’re accessing a website from a different geographical location, such as outside of China. This technique is legal for now, but the Chinese government might make it nearly impossible for you to use one. VPN regulations continue to escalate as China campaigns to keep out unwanted information.