Censorship and online freedom of expression: Challenges and solutions

5 Mins Read

PUREVPNCensorship and online freedom of expression: Challenges and solutions

The internet has become the backbone of modern communication, giving people access to a wealth of information and the freedom to express their ideas. However, with this freedom comes the challenge of censorship and online freedom of expression, and that arises when a government or entity tries to limit access to information or control what people can and cannot say online. For example, China’s “Great Firewall” of internet censorship restricts access to many popular websites, including Facebook, Google, and Twitter. 

According to The Guardian, “In recent years, the Chinese leadership has devoted more and more resources to controlling content online. Government policies have contributed to a dramatic fall in the number of postings on the Chinese blogging platform Sina Weibo (similar to Twitter), and have silenced many of China’s most important voices advocating reform and opening up the internet”

The term “censorship” originates from the Latin word “censere,” which means “to give one’s opinion, to assess.” During ancient Roman times, censors were officials responsible for conducting census counts and serving as evaluators and supervisors of moral standards and behavior.

Definition of censorship: The institution, system, or practice of censoring; the actions or practices of censors; esp: censorial control exercised repressively.
Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary

Whereas free speech encompasses various interpretations, but fundamentally, it revolves around the lawful entitlement to express or pursue ideas and opinions without the risk of censorship or legal repercussions. It is a component of freedom of expression, signifying individuals’ right to freely articulate themselves in any manner they choose.

Read more: Best VPN for Russia in 2023: Bypass online censorship

Freedom of expression in the digital age: Why it matters

Freedom of expression in the digital age is crucial due to the internet’s integral role in our lives, enabling communication, information access, entertainment, and work. Through social media and blogging, individuals worldwide can freely express opinions and ideas. However, this expanded online presence also introduces challenges such as cyberbullying, hate speech, and online harassment.

In this context, freedom of expression gains even more significance. It is a fundamental human right that empowers individuals to express themselves without censorship, retaliation, or legal repercussions. With the increasing participation in public discourse and online activities, the digital age amplifies the need for this right.

According to Civil Liberties Union for Europe, “Free speech exists when citizens can express their opinion – including views that are critical towards the government – without fearing negative consequences, such as being put into prison or receiving threats of violence.”

In 2000 freedom of expression was enshrined as a fundamental right in Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union:

  • Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.
  • The freedom and pluralism of the media shall be respected.

The current landscape of online censorship

The landscape of online censorship is continuously evolving, presenting a complex and dynamic environment. Various factors contribute to the current state of online censorship, including government regulations, corporate policies, and societal norms.

According to Statista, “As of April 2023, global internet users reached a staggering 5.18 billion, encompassing approximately 64.6 percent of the world’s population. Among these users, 4.8 billion, accounting for 59.9 percent of the global population, were actively engaged in social media.”

The internet serves as a crucial foundation for the modern information society, connecting billions of people across the globe. In terms of internet usage, Northern Europe emerged as the frontrunner among worldwide regions in 2023. Remarkably, countries like Norway, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates boasted internet usage rates of 99 percent among their respective populations. In stark contrast, North Korea ranked at the bottom, with minimal internet penetration among its general populace.

Asia held the highest number of online users worldwide, exceeding 2.93 billion individuals in the latest count. Europe followed closely with approximately 750 million internet users. China, India, and the United States led the global rankings, surpassing other nations in terms of internet user count.

Read more: How to use a VPN in 2023 – A beginner’s guide

Challenges in balancing censorship and freedom of expression

Throughout history, censorship has been ingrained in society, as governments aim to regulate information flow for the benefit of the state. However, the rise of the internet and social media in recent years has presented new complexities in navigating the delicate balance between censorship and freedom of expression. The ongoing debate revolves around whether censorship is necessary to combat hate speech, propaganda, and discrimination or if it infringes upon fundamental human rights.

The significant impact of social media platforms and the widespread availability of information have posed challenges in controlling the dissemination of content. As a result, governments, civil society organizations, and internet companies have responded in diverse ways to address these issues. 

For example, many countries have laws against blasphemy, which limits freedom of expression for non-believers, atheists, and religious minorities. In contrast, some countries have laws that protect hate speech if it is deemed to represent a political opinion.

According to the Economist, “The five countries deemed to practice the grossest violations of international standards were all Muslim-majority lands. Top came Iran and Pakistan, both countries where “blasphemers” can face death.”

Another challenge is the impact of censorship on human rights, particularly freedom of assembly and association. When governments censor or shut down social media platforms, they often do so under the guise of protecting national security or public order. However, these actions also limit the ability of individuals and civil society organizations to organize and express their opinions, thereby restricting their fundamental rights to participate in public life.

Another example worthy of mentioning is when the Indian government in 2020 ordered the suspension of social media platforms during protests against a new citizenship law. The move resulted in the violation of citizens’ right to freedom of expression and their right to peaceful assembly. In contrast, during the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, social media played a crucial role in facilitating mass mobilization and coordination of protests, leading to the overthrow of regimes in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt.

For Peggy Hicks, Director of Thematic Engagement for UN Human Rights, nearly every country that has adopted laws relating to online content has jeopardized human rights in doing so. “This happens because governments respond to public pressure by rushing in with simple solutions for complex problems. Additionally, some governments see this legislation as a way to limit speech they dislike and even silence civil society or other critics.”

Solutions and approaches

In addressing the challenges of censorship, several solutions have emerged as potential approaches:

1. Implementing global laws and regulations for internet and media usage can strike a balance between safeguarding national security and protecting individual rights. Defining censorship laws carefully and ensuring they align with fundamental freedoms encourages creativity and innovation.

2. Leveraging technology to manage censorship is another viable solution. While some countries use firewalls and similar technologies to limit access to harmful content, it’s important to recognize technology’s dual nature and engage in constructive dialogue with citizens, experts, and organizations to find strategies that balance access control and freedom of expression.

3. Public education and awareness play a crucial role in fighting censorship. By educating citizens about the importance of freedom of expression and the risks of censorship, societies can foster a culture that values open dialogue and diverse perspectives. Involving professionals, youth, social influencers, and advocates through various media platforms empowers individuals to protect fundamental rights.

4. Provision of alternative platforms for free speech and expression has shown promise. These platforms comply with regulations while offering more diverse content than mainstream media outlets. By providing spaces free from strict censorship, individuals can freely share their thoughts, ideas, and culture, revolutionizing content consumption for those facing censorship challenges.

How can a VPN help you bypass censorship online?

A premium virtual private network such as PureVPN can help you bypass online censorship by creating a secure connection between your device and the internet. It not only masks your IP address but also encrypts your internet traffic, thus making it difficult for government authorities and ISPs to monitor or censor your activities.

Moreover, a VPN gives you the freedom to connect to a server in a different country. It allows you to appear as if you’re browsing from a different location where censorship is less restrictive while providing you with an opportunity to access content that may be unavailable or blocked in your region. 

This brings us to the end of our blog on censorship and online freedom of expression. To learn more about VPNs and other cybersecurity tools, stay connected to the PureVPN Blog

Read More: How to bypass censorship with a VPN in 2023


Adil Ahsan Ali


July 5, 2023


1 year ago

An enthusiastic individual, who has a passion for AI, cybersecurity, gaming, and all this trending in the digital world. Adil is your go-to guy if you want learn about what's trending in cyberspace.

Have Your Say!!

Join 3 million+ users to embrace internet freedom

Signup for PureVPN to get complete online security and privacy with a hidden IP address and encrypted internet traffic.