by Paul Bischoff
Interested in learning
how your country
to the rest of
Nearly 60 percent of the
world's population (4.66 billion people) uses the internet. It's our
source of instant information, entertainment, news, and social
But where in the world can citizens enjoy equal and open internet
access - if anywhere?
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
restrictions or bans for torrenting, pornography, social media, and
VPNs, and restrictions or heavy censorship of political media.
year, we have also added the restriction of messaging/VoIP apps.
Although the usual culprits take the top spots, a few seemingly free
countries rank surprisingly high. With ongoing restrictions and
pending laws, our online freedom is at more risk than ever.
We scored each country on six criteria.
Each of these is worth two
points aside from messaging/VoIP apps which is worth one (this is
due to many countries banning or restricting certain apps but
allowing ones run by the government/telecoms providers within the
The country receives 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
countries for internet censorship
1 - North Korea
and China (11/11)
No map of online
censorship would be complete without these two at the top of the
There isn't anything
either of them doesn't heavily censor thanks to their iron grip
over the entire internet. Users are unable to use western social
media, watch porn, or use torrents or VPNs.*
though VPNs are technically blocked, some do still work in
China. This is the same with porn websites in many of the
aforementioned countries. Many porn websites will create
"mirror" sites to give access to people in restricted countries,
but these will often be blocked once authorities become aware of
And all of the
political media published in the country is heavily censored and
influenced by the government.
Both also shut down
messaging apps from abroad, forcing residents to use ones that
have been made (and are likely controlled) within the country,
e.g. WeChat in China.
Not only does
WeChat have no form of end-to-end encryption, the app also
has backdoors that enable third parties to access messages.
2 - Iran
Iran blocks VPNs
(only government-approved ones are permitted, which renders them
almost useless) but doesn't completely ban torrenting.
Pornography is also
banned and social media is under increasing restrictions.
Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are all blocked with increasing
pressures to block other popular social media sites.
Many messaging apps
are also banned with authorities pushing domestic apps and
services as an alternative. Political media is heavily censored.
Belarus, Qatar, Syria, Thailand, Turkmenistan, and the UAE
Belarus, and the UAE all featured in our "worst countries"
breakdown in 2020. But this year they are joined by Qatar,
Syria, and Thailand.
All of these
countries ban pornography, have heavily censored political
media, restrict social media (bans have also been seen in
Turkmenistan), and restrict the use of VPNs.
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).
countries that have increased censorship in 2021
If we compare the
scores for each country from our 2020 study to our 2021 study, there
are three countries that appear to have upped their censorship.
One, as we have
already seen, is Thailand.
The second, Guinea,
saw increased political media restrictions suspensions or threats of
suspension across several websites during the October 2020 elections
as well as social media restrictions during this time (and ahead of
the vote in March, too).
The third is
perhaps the most surprising, though. Greece received a mere one
point in our first study for its restriction of torrenting (which
occurs in every country studied).
But in our 2021
revisit, it scores 3.
This is due to
increased actions against torrenting and restrictions on
political media. Reporters without Borders suggested there was a
decrease in press freedom during 2020.
Media outlets that
were critical of the government were omitted or given
disproportionately small figures from tax rebates. Public TV
channels were ordered not to broadcast a video that showed the prime
minister disregarding lockdown rules in February 2021.
Coverage of the
refugee crisis was heavily restricted. And journalists were reported
to have been obstructed by police at a commemorative event.
A renowned Greek
crime journalist, Giorgos Karaivaz, was also assassinated in April
Online censorship in Europe
countries have banned or shut down torrenting sites. A
number have also introduced measures but aren't blocking
websites as of yet (Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech
Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Liechtenstein, Lithuania,
Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia). As they
aren't blocking torrenting sites, these haven't been scored
as having "sites blocked" and are instead scored as being
torrenting websites are often blocked in Spain (hence why it
is classed as having shut down torrenting sites), rules do
permit torrenting for personal use (downloading to view but
not to upload or distribute).
restricts online pornography while Belarus and Turkey
ban/block the content entirely.
media is restricted in 12 countries. As we have already
seen, Greece joined this list this year as did Hungary and
countries heavily censor political media - Belarus and
countries block or ban social media but five do restrict it.
These are Belarus, Montenegro, Spain, Turkey, and Ukraine.
restricts the use of VPNs while Belarus bans them entirely.
and VoIP apps are unrestricted across Europe.
censorship in North America
Mexico, and the United States have banned or shut down
Cuba is the
only country to restrict online pornography, heavily censor
its political media, and restrict VPNs.
countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico,
Nicaragua, and Panama) have some restrictions across their
political media. The US saw an improvement in this area this
year as restrictions on political media have eased since the
last presidential election.
Honduras have restrictions across social media platforms.
and VoIP apps are met with restrictions in Belize, Cuba, and
Mexico. Cuba restricted access to social media and WhatsApp
following anti-government protests. In Mexico, some ISPs
block VoIP services, while Belize telecoms providers offer
their own VoIP services while banning others.
Online censorship in
is the only country to actively block torrenting websites
while Venezuela is the only one to restrict online
media is restricted in half (6) of the South American
countries we covered. It is also heavily censored in
Venezuela with persistent attempts to control the news and
silence independent media outlets.
Venezuela have social media restrictions.
None of the
countries have restrictions or bans VPN use at present.
countries have restricted messaging/VoIP apps (Brazil,
Guyana, and Venezuela). As well as VoIP apps being banned by
Brazil's largest ISP, a bill
threatened to mandate traceability in private messaging
(however, at the time of writing, this hasn't yet been
signed into law).
Online censorship in Asia
countries have blocked or banned torrenting sites.
majority of Asian countries have restrictions on online
pornography (40 out of the 49 we covered–82 percent) with 27
of these having full bans/blocks.
media is also heavily restricted and censored in Asia. 43
(88 percent) of the countries we covered have restrictions,
with the majority (28) being subject to heavy censorship.
number (32) of these countries restrict social media
platforms in some way. China, Iran, North Korea, and
Turkmenistan go one step further and enforce full bans
across popular social media platforms.
countries have full bans on VPN use (China, Iran, Iraq, and
North Korea), and a further 11 impose restrictions.
and VoIP app restrictions are also commonplace in Asia with
13 countries implementing some form of limitation. Although
Russia did ban Telegram in 2018, this was lifted in June
2020. However, as the government continues to look for ways
to restrict websites and apps from outside the country, this
could change at any time.
Online censorship in Africa
Africa is the only African country to actively shut down
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
Most of the
African countries we covered (43 of 53-81 percent) restrict
political media. 11 of these enforce heavy censorship with
Algeria, Cameroon, and Chad all upping their suppression of
political commentary since our last study.
of the African countries we covered implement social media
restrictions but only one of these–Eritrea–has gone so far
as to continually block access to social media sites.
the only country to restrict VPN use. Despite VPNs being
legal, many VPN providers' websites and servers are blocked
are the best options when choosing a VPN in Egypt).
also one of the seven countries to have restrictions
surrounding the use of messaging/VoIP apps. The others are
Burundi, Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone, Libya, Morocco,
Online censorship in Oceania
is the only country to strictly enforce torrenting
bans/blocks and, along with Papua New Guinea, has
restrictions on online pornography, too. The Australian
Broadcasting Service Act 1992 illegalizes watching internet
porn, establishing it as a fineable offense. However, only
some towns and cities have tried to establish a full ban.
Online Content Bill, which is expected to come into law
soon, also threatens to further restrict access to online
porn in the country.
media is restricted in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, and
Tonga but only Papua New Guinea has the ability to restrict
social media through its cybercrime law which was introduced
None of the
Oceania countries restrict the use of VPNs or VoIP/messaging
censorship become the "norm?"
While it's no great
surprise to see the likes of China, Russia, and North Korea topping
the list, the growing number of restrictions in many other countries
is greatly concerning.
ongoing attempts to block porn to growing political media hostility
in many countries, our online freedom is something we can no longer
take for granted.
Thankfully, VPNs do
still offer a way for many of us to surf the net privately (and
But as censorship becomes increasingly common, more and
more countries could join the restricted list, putting citizens'
digital privacy at risk.
To find out to what
extent each country is censored, we have studied each in detail to
see what restrictions, if any, they impose across torrents,
pornography, political media, social media, VPNs, and messaging/VoIP
We scored each
country on six criteria. Each of these is worth two points aside
from messaging/VoIP apps which is worth one (this is due to many
countries banning or restricting certain apps but allowing ones run
by the government/telecoms providers within the country).
receives 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.
In some cases,
countries may be scored as having banned one of these areas but
residents may find ways to circumnavigate these bans, e.g. with VPNs
or mirror sites.
However, as the
country enforces this ban by blocking websites or implementing laws,
the country is scored as having banned it.
On the other hand,
if a country has brought in regulations to try and restrict or ban
an area but users continue to be able to freely use these
services/websites, the country is only scored as being "restricted"
because the regulations/laws aren't being enforced.