There didn’t use to be many barriers to communication online, the internet in it’s infancy was pretty much completely open. Sure I remember a few passwords were required for certain BBS systems or perhaps when you logging in to an online library or something like that, but nothing much else.
Nowadays there are many forces seeking to restrict, block or filter access to huge areas of the internet. Their agendas are varied ranging from political, security to the increasing commercialism which rages across the web. The worse thing is that half the time you have no idea you’re even being blocked. That ’Page not Found’ error might not be a genuine problem but rather a Government tampering with the underlying infrastructure of the internet. They may have decided that you don’t need to see that particular blog or site for some reason.
It’s difficult to say which source of this censorship is the most worrying. To be honest a lot of it was fairly predictable, countries ruled by a despotic regime like Iran or Syria where always going to heavily filter the internet. As a communication medium it is unsurpassed particularly if you’re organising demonstrations or protests. A couple of weeks Syria closed down the entire internet for over a day – in order to block communications between the rebels and protestors.
I think this sort of filtering is always going to happen, by their very nature Governments like Iran and Syria are always going to be worried about free speech, blocking everything is pretty much the only way to stop people communicating online. The reason is that although there are many different methods to block access to specific web and social networking sites, there are many ways to circumvent these blocks. Proxies and VPNs can be used to disguise your location and sidestep the firewalls that these regimes use.
In the commercial sector a prime example of internet filtering is by the big media sites like Hulu, BBC and ABC for example. They’ll normally restrict access based on your location so if you’re in the UK you can watch ITV online but not anywhere else. The same with Hulu they’ll restrict normal access to teh US mainland only. Again these blocks can usually be bypassed fairly easily, this site has a video showing how you can use a proxy server to watch BBC Iplayer abroad on your PC – http://www.theninjaproxy.org/tv/how-to-use-a-bbc-iplayer-proxy/.
Many experts think that countries like Iran and China will eventually block all access to the internet as a whole. It’s just to big and too uncontrolable for their liking, and there are too many little ways to stay anonymous if you know what you’re doing. The alternative is that of North Korea which consists of entirely Government produced websites – which are of course stunningly dull anyway!