Internet censorship: What is it?

Living or traveling in a country that censors the internet? ExpressVPN helps you access everyday services and popular apps.

Logos for online services, like YouTube, Google, Skype, Facebook, Snapchat, and more.

What is internet censorship, and what is its purpose?

What is internet censorship? | ExpressVPN

Internet censorship is the suppression of content on the internet, which may be undertaken by governments to limit knowledge. Schools and workplaces also block content on their networks to lessen distractions, while parents limit what’s accessible to protect children from unsuitable material.

Countries use internet censorship to prevent information from spreading, which suppresses challenges to their official narrative of the world. This is a way to exert control over people and prevent rebellion in society. Internet censorship by governments is also often motivated by moral or religious objections, as well as to prevent access to copyrighted material.

Laptop with blocked access to content and apps.

Censors employ technical methods to block its internet users from accessing a selection of websites (such as foreign news sites), apps (like Facebook and YouTube), and services (like Google). In some cases, countries enact laws that make it difficult to publish content to the internet. In extreme cases, they deny citizens access to the internet altogether. ExpressVPN’s 2020 Internet Censorship Report looks at how countries around the world practice internet censorship.

Internet censorship issues: How does it affect us?

Various devices with smiley faces on them.

Skewed worldview: Censorship influences how we understand the world and society, often by presenting a more positive picture of one’s own society. It also prevents us from knowing about alternate ways of life around the world.

Inconvenience: It can be frustrating if the main online services you use are blocked when you’re traveling or living abroad. This could mean you must go without your main email, messaging apps, social media, and video chat tools that you rely on to stay in touch with family and friends, and for news and entertainment.

Business disadvantages: Companies are hampered by censorship when they don’t have access to all the information that could help them make business decisions. International companies with operations in countries that block popular communication services must also adapt by using apps available locally, regardless of their suitability and quality.

Loss of privacy: In high-censorship countries, individuals are limited to using a set of locally available social media and chat apps, and those apps are likely monitored for sensitive content, which gets removed before it can be widely disseminated.

Edited entertainment: A country might block streaming services or certain films and TV shows, or only permit versions that cut out content that runs counter to its preferred messaging.

How does internet censorship work?


The most common and primitive tool to censor websites and services is to redirect DNS records. This is akin to removing a business from a phone book or maps service, though it will still allow those familiar with the service to reach it directly. A common circumvention method for this strategy is to use a DNS provider outside of your home jurisdiction, as foreign providers would not comply with the censorship request.

IP block

A more sophisticated strategy is to block all requests and connections with IP addresses connected to the target site. If the blocked site is hosted on a shared server, then all the sites on that server will face the same fate.

Keyword filters

With keyword filters, any website containing certain keywords is blocked. Keyword filtering is applied when authorities can’t identify and ban new websites fast enough through monitoring.

Deep packet inspection

Deep packet inspection (DPI) refers to the process of analyzing every single piece of data going in and out of a restricted network. It requires massive resources, as powerful computers and storage units have to be erected at every digital border. As a side effect, connections will appear considerably slower.

Speed malfunctions

Some corporations might throttle your internet connection and make it incredibly slow and cumbersome to reach certain sites. This approach has been used by ISPs in the past to restrict access to peer-to-peer sites such as uTorrent and LimeWire.

Free your internet with a VPN

ExpressVPN believes in digital rights, part of which is the right to access and publish freely on the internet.

When you connect to one of our VPN servers around the world, you’ll be able to browse the internet with a new IP address. This can make you appear to be in a different country, which could give you access to websites that might otherwise be censored to you.

ExpressVPN encrypts your web traffic with best-in-class 256-bit encryption and has a strict policy to keep no activity logs and no connection logs, so you can visit the sites you want without having to worry about having your data read, hacked, or stolen by your ISP, governments, or malicious entities.

Learn more about VPN

Laptop with several browser windows.
Unblock websites

Access your favorite web services and defeat censorship

Learn how to unlock global content

Laptop with encryption.
Encrypt your data

Strong encryption protects your data and communication

Learn more about VPN encryption

Open green file and a paper with a cross mark through it.
No activity logs

ExpressVPN does not see or record what websites you visit

Read our policy toward logs