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Bypass Online Censorship – How To Freely Access The Internet

Last edited: March 2, 2020
Reading time: 13 minutes, 9 seconds

We associate online censorship with countries like China and Turkey but it will surprise you how widespread the problem is. To bypass these kinds of geographical restrictions you can use a VPN. If, for instance, the use of Facebook is banned in your country you can access the site via a VPN server in a different country. This way, it is like you are accessing the internet as if you were in that other country, thus gaining access to the restricted sites and services.

In this article you can read all about the different forms of online censorship and how you can bypass them with a VPN. In our eyes, freedom of speech is one of the most important basic human rights and we should protect it at all times. You will find out all you need to know about the censorship of social media, news sites, and other services below. Moreover we will explain how a VPN or Tor can help you.

A VPN cannot only help you to bypass these geographical restrictions; it has many other advantages. It offers freedom, security, and anonymity. When you access the internet via the servers of your VPN provider, the software encrypts all your internet traffic and hides your personal IP address. You can read more on how a VPN works and what advantages it can offer you. Tor is a browser that can help you bypass all in-browser censorship. As we will explain, this won’t be enough to help you access all forbidden sites and services.

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Social Media Censorship

Social Media outlets are places where people can express their unfiltered thoughts and opinions. This can be a threat to some governments. Social media are a perfect way for large groups of people with the same ideas to assemble. Governments that do not allow any opposition fear that social media can spark resistance. For this reason they will restrict or completely ban the use of certain media in their country. Luckily, there are ways around this and one of them is the use of a VPN.

Censorship of Facebook and Twitter

Twitter and Facebook are banned in a couple of countries, like China and North Korea. Moreover, there were several instances where countries have temporarily banned the use of these sharing platforms. Often this happens as a rash action against rebellion. Facebook is ideal to create events and get large groups of people together. Thus, it can be very useful when you want to organize protest. Totalitarian regimes, that do not allow resistance, closely watch social media and in some instances proceed to ban them. Of course, we would label this as blatant censorship.

Banning Twitter will often coincide with the banning of Facebook. Similarly to Facebook, Twitter is also sometimes temporarily banned or restricted. Some governments consider Twitter as a threat because you can use it to spread insubordinate messages. The reach of the opinion of their opposition might be great on Twitter which can threaten their regime. Everyone can issue requests for removal on Twitter. Notably, Twitter published that 90% of all removal request come from Turkey. As of yet, Turkey has not blocked Twitter completely, only temporarily.

While completely blocking these sites is blatant censorship, other cases are slightly more complicated. It has proven to be difficult for Facebook and Twitter to check their websites for illegal content, like hate speech and terrorism. Moreover, laws are different in all countries. Some governments have pressured Facebook to take certain pages offline. Most often these are pages that are in conflict with the laws of that country. You might not view the banning of terrorist pages as censorship, because it appears to be for your protection. But imagine your government has it out for kittens and they ban them on all social media outlets, would you still think that’s reasonable? Understandably, government actions of censorship have sparked large discussions. Luckily, we can find a way around censorship with a VPN.

In China, where Facebook and Twitter are banned, they have created an alternative to these services. The service, called Weibo, is a large sharing platform. However, the Chinese government monitors and censors Weibo. You will not be able to post everything you want on Weibo. There is a long list of forbidden words and phrases. Thus, though it presents itself as an alternative, it really isn’t. So if your country offers an alternative to banned services, it is always good to check the actual freedom that platform will offer you.

Censorship of WhatsApp and Skype

Skype Blocked Laptop

Apps like WhatsApp and Skype that offer easy, free communication can pose a threat to both telecommunication companies and governments. These applications offer so-called VoIP services. VoIP (Voice over internet protocol) services are a way of communicating for free, through the internet. Governments that block the use of these services often say they do so to protect telecom and internet providers. Or the internet provider might block these services because often they also own the telecom company. These companies that you pay so you can call or text someone, lose a lot of revenue when VoIP services are allowed. In a way, they are artificially keeping companies afloat that would have otherwise gone down.

There are also governments that restrict the use of Skype and WhatsApp for other reasons. Like the social media previously mentioned, Skype and WhatsApp can pose a threat to totalitarian regimes. They are a way of easy, unsupervised communication. For this reason, some countries decide to ban them. In some cases they allow the VoIP service but apply spyware to them to monitor conversations. For instance, in China you can only download an adjusted version of Skype. This version has spyware which allows the Chinese government to monitor chats and check for banned words.

Again, the Chinese government has allowed an alternative Chinese service to take over the market that in many other countries belongs to WhatsApp. This service is called WeChat, and like Weibo, the Chinese government heavily monitors it.

Censorship of YouTube

The blocking of YouTube often has a similar motivation to the above mentioned services. The freedom to post what you want and, possibly, reach a large audience is a threat to totalitarian regimes. However, on YouTube there also is the issue of distribution rights. Similarly to streaming services like Netflix, YouTube sometimes has to deal with copyright and distributors. Distributors restrict the countries in which a video is shown. You will see a message something like this:

Strictly speaking this isn’t censorship but you can also bypass it with a VPN. Simply select a country that will give you access the video of your choice. You can read more about this process in our article on watching American Netflix wordwide.

Blocked Websites

Like these large social media platforms, individual sites are also subject to censorship. They might pose a threat to a government or the social order in a country. There are too many different sites that get banned. We will discuss the blocking of News sites because this is an important violation of independent journalism.

News Sites Censored

The blocking of news sites is a great danger to the freedom of speech. This practice is probably the clearest example of censorship. If a country doesn’t allow independent journalism it violates the freedom of speech. Often they will block news sites that support the opposition, or foreign news sites. Examples of countries where the press is heavily censored are Turkey and Iran. Luckily, these news sites can often be access with the use of a VPN. A side-effect of the blocking of news sites by governments, is that other news sites will be watchful of their content. They self-censor because they do not want to be blocked. This way, there are no independent journalistic outlets left.

More recently, countries have started blocking “fake news” sites. This is something to be watchful of, because who can determine what is and is not fake news? For instance, the EU has created a task force that will check the internet for fake news, especially interested in fake news from Russia. Fake news can be very dangerous but censorship maybe even more so. Though the spreading of disinformation is becoming more and more of a problem we must be watchful of governments too eagerly blocking websites.

Google Censored

Google will block certain sites if they think it could be described as justifiable censorship. These are pages that break the law in most countries such as, terrorism and child pornography. However, they are clear about the fact that they do not want to assist in political censorship. Because Google will not honor all the requests it gets, some countries decide to block their applications. For instance, China currently bans all the Google applications.

Pornographic Sites Censored

Pornographic sites are another type of website that suffer a lot of censorship. Some countries do not allow any obscene material on the web. Not all governments and cultures agree on what is obscene and what is not. While one country only bans pornographic websites, another country may even ban sites that sell bikinis. To impose a certain set of morals onto the citizens of their countries these countries use censorship.

Bypass Censorship with a VPN

A VPN is a good solution to the problem of online censorship. With a VPN you can bypass geographical restrictions in your country. When you use a VPN you can select the county you would like to access the internet from. The VPN sends your traffic via a server in that country and you access the internet not with your own IP address, but with the IP address of that server. To websites it will seem like you are accessing them from the country you have selected. This way you can easily bypass the online censorship in your country.

A VPN also has a lot of other benefits. You gain freedom with the possibility of bypassing geographical restrictions. This can, for instance, help you to watch the Netflix content of another country. But there is more! The VPN also provides you with anonymity because your own IP address won’t be visible to anyone. With a VPN nobody will be able to connect your actions online to your location or person. Read more about the benefits of this anonymous browsing. Lastly, a VPN offers great security. VPN software encrypts all the data on your computer. No hacker or government will be able to decipher this encrypted traffic. Your personal information and internet traffic is safe with the use of a VPN.

Best VPN Providers to Bypass Censorship

We have created a list of the three best VPN providers that can help you bypass censorship. For this list we have combined our general list of the best VPN providers, with the features a VPN has to have to fight censorship. One difficulty is that some countries have now started blocking VPN provider sites. We have selected those providers that have managed to stay available (almost) everywhere. Another important feature is the money-back guarantee. This way you can easily try out the service to see if it works. If it doesn’t work to your liking you can cancel the subscription and get your money back. Although there are decent free VPN providers we wouldn’t recommend them for the purpose of bypassing online censorship.

Planning to use a VPN because you are going on holiday in a country where services are blocked? We advise you to install your VPN before leaving. Because, as mentioned earlier, the site of the provider could be blocked in that country.

Bypass Censorship with ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN is at the top of most of our lists for a reason. ExpressVPN helps you obtain a stable and secure connection wherever you are. They have great customer-support and user-friendly applications. ExpressVPN is somewhat expensive but you do get the best quality in return. You will not need to worry about online censorship with ExpressVPN because you can easily set up a connection that bypasses the geographical restrictions. They offer a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can take your time to try out their applications.

Our pick
Our pick
3 months for free with a one-year subscription
  • Very easy to use VPN
  • Perfect for anonymous browsing, downloading, and streaming (i.e. Netflix)
  • 3000+ servers in 94 countries
Visit ExpressVPN

Bypass Censorship with NordVPN

NordVPN is a very good and solid VPN provider that definitely belongs to the top. They offer over one thousand servers all over the world for a very reasonable price. Especially if you care about your privacy online, they are the provider for you! NordVPN cares deeply about your online security and does not keep logs. They also have a 30-day money-back guarantee so you can take your time to test if their services fit your needs.

Only $3,71 a month for a 2-year subscription
  • Excellent protection and a large network of servers
  • Nice and pleasing application
  • No logs
Visit NordVPN

Bypass Censorship with PureVPN

PureVPN also is a large VPN provider with over 500 servers in almost 200 different countries. They are a great provider to bypass online censorship. With good speeds and a stable connection they make browsing the web anonymously very easy. Their security is not as watertight as NordVPN but this won’t pose a threat if you are a normal internet user. They are at the end of this list because their money-back guarantee only lasts seven days. This should be enough to test whether or not they work for you. But a longer trial period would have been nice. Read our full review of PureVPN for more information.

  • Large offer of servers
  • High speeds
  • Netflix doesn't always work
Visit PureVPN

Use Tor to Bypass Censorship

Tor (the Onion Router) is an online network that functions as an internet browser. It is used for encrypted, anonymous communication. The Tor network consists of thousands of servers worldwide. The data traffic is cut up in little pieces that are subsequently encrypted and sent through several servers before it ends up with the user. This process costs some time and for that reason the Tor browser can be relatively slow. But however slow it is, it does make sure nobody can see what you do online.

An important side note is that Tor provides the user with access to the dark web. Surfing the dark web should be done with care. That part of the internet is not regulated and it is easy to contrive malware there. For most people that want to stay anonymous online, a VPN will be an easier, better, and more secure option than Tor.

Tor functions as a search engine, which means it can be a solution to bypass restrictions on services that you access via a browser, like Twitter and YouTube. However, things that operate outside a browser are not affected by Tor. Thus, for bypassing restrictions on programs like Skype and the applications of sites like Twitter and Facebook , can only be done with a VPN. We would recommend the use of a VPN over the use of Tor anyway, because of the added benefits of complete freedom, anonymity, and security it offers.

Final Thoughts

Some government censor online activity. Outlets like social media and news sites are a threat to their rule. For this reason, sites and services are banned in certain countries. A way to gain access to these restricted sites is with the use of a VPN. This will allow you to change your virtual location. Though Tor could be useful for visiting blocked websites, for general internet freedom we would recommend a VPN. Check out our list of the best all-round VPN providers!

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Tech journalist
Tove has been working for VPNoverview since 2017 as a journalist covering cybersecurity and privacy developments. Since 2019 she is's cybersecurity news coordinator.

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