Bypass Online Censorship: How to Freely Access the Internet

Censorship icon, Wi-Fi icon. browser icon and VPN shield icon
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Bypass Online Censorship: A Short Summary

Censorship on the Internet is becoming more and more common. Often there is a political reason for this. In some countries, certain news websites or social media are blocked because the government does not want citizens to have access to this information.

A VPN connection offers a solution for circumventing this censorship. Follow the steps below:

  1. Get a subscription from a good VPN provider, such as NordVPN.
  2. Download the VPN software on your smartphone, tablet, desktop or laptop.
  3. Start the VPN and connect to a server in a country where there is no censorship.
  4. You now have access to the blocked content, because your data traffic is redirected through a country where there is no censorship.

More information on how to circumvent online censorship can be found in the article below.

Online censorship is a tool of oppression. We tend to associate online censorship with totalitarian regimes, but you’d be surprised at just how widespread the problem is. Internet censorship occurs worldwide and can take on many different forms.

Websites in places like Saudi Arabia are blocked for political and religious reasons. In Russia, social media platforms are banned to prevent people from accessing independent news sources. The government heavily censors content in Myanmar and North Korea, allowing only state-approved media.

For journalists, activists, and citizens alike, the internet is an essential means of connecting with the world. If you found this article, you’re likely looking for a way to bypass online censorship. There are many ways you can do so, some more technical than others.

One of the safest and easiest ways to get around geographical restrictions is using a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN provides you with an IP address from a different location so that you can access sites and services that are otherwise blocked.

In this article, we first discuss what online censorship is and how it works. If you scroll down, you can find a list of ways to bypass internet censorship, including a VPN.


What is Online Censorship?

Online censorship iconIn essence, online censorship (or internet censorship) is the practice of restricting what can be viewed or accessed on the internet. It’s a way to control digital media and is often carried out by governments for political, social, or religious reasons.

If you’re a resident in a certain country or you’re visiting as a tourist, you will notice that your internet access may be limited. For example, streaming sites such as Netflix might not work.

In more extreme cases, you won’t be able to access content from opposition media outlets or use your social media accounts.

Additionally, Big Tech corporations such as Google and Facebook also exercise a degree of censorship on their platforms by deciding what content is and isn’t allowed. They can take down websites, manipulate search results, or ban social media content for all sorts of reasons.

Often, disagreements about internet restrictions create tensions between national governments and tech giants.

For regular people, internet restrictions have a very negative impact on the information they can access. It can be dangerous to express political discontent: in some countries, censorship is so strict that you might end up in jail for trying to circumvent it.

To give you a better picture of what online censorship looks like, we’ve listed some key examples below.


Social Media Censorship

Social media censorship iconIn recent years, there’s been a lot of discussion about freedom of expression on social media platforms. By design, social networks offer people a place to express their personal thoughts and opinions and discuss these with others.

While this right is somewhat limited by guidelines that protect against hate speech, discrimination, and sexually graphic content, generally, platforms such as Instagram or Twitter offer a lot of freedom.

Some governments fear that social media platforms can create political dissent. To prevent this, they censor certain content according to what they perceive to be dangerous.

While the justification for internet restrictions is often national security, the reality is that governments don’t want any criticism of their politics to spread. In Thailand, this extends to any content that defames the royal family. In Ukraine, social media censorship increased during the Russian invasion.

Censorship of Facebook and Twitter

Twitter and Facebook are permanently banned in a couple of countries, including China. In other countries, governments tend to temporarily ban the use of these social networks, often to push back against social movements and rebellions.

Facebook is targeted because of the way it brings large groups of people together. During periods of social unrest, Facebook is often used to organize protests or marches. Totalitarian regimes that don’t allow resistance will use censorship to prevent this from happening.

It can be difficult to get access to Facebook in these places. Twitter is often banned for the same reasons. Everyone can issue requests for removal on Twitter. Notably, Twitter revealed that the five countries with the highest number of removal requests are Japan, Russia, Turkey, India, and South Korea.

The main issue with social media censorship is that the lines between acceptable and unacceptable content are unclear and subjective. It has proven difficult for Facebook and Twitter to manage extremist or terrorist content on their platforms, while simultaneously adhering to their general freedom of expression principle.

What is considered “extremist” in one country, is considered something completely different somewhere else. On top of that, disinformation is spread more widely than ever before.

Censorship of messaging apps

Messaging apps censorship icon

A different branch of social media that suffers from censorship is messaging apps. Popular services such as WhatsApp and Skype offer easy, free communication via the internet. These Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services are increasingly banned across the world.

Governments that block the use of these services often claim they do so to protect telecommunications and internet providers. After all, VoIP apps are direct competitors of internet and phone services. By banning these kinds of messaging apps, governments are artificially keeping companies afloat that would have otherwise gone down.

Of course, there are also governments that restrict the use of these apps for other reasons. Like other social media platforms, messaging apps can be seen as a threat to totalitarian regimes.

They offer unsupervised communication and can be used to organize protests or opposition. For this reason, some countries decide to ban them. In other cases, they apply spyware to monitor VoIP conversations.

To push back against these kinds of regimes, there’s been a rise in apps that offer extra protection, such as Signal as a WhatsApp alternative. Check out our article on the best encrypted messaging apps, to find the right one for you!


YouTube Censorship

Often, YouTube is blocked for the same reasons as the above-mentioned services, though you can now easily unblock YouTube videos. The freedom to post what you want and, possibly, reach a large audience can be considered a threat in certain places.

Like other social media giants, YouTube also applies a degree of censorship to its own platform. Channels that, according to YouTube, contain “malicious” content are supposedly more difficult to find on the platform. YouTube also removes advertisements from such videos.

However, in the past couple of years, YouTube has been criticized for ineffective and discriminatory monitoring. LGBTQ+ content, for example, suffers from disproportionate demonetization.

Moreover, YouTube has been blamed for actually pushing people towards extreme content or disinformation. Finally, there’s 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 that looks something like this:

video not available youtube

It’s one of the reasons why some of the best Netflix shows are not available in certain territories. Strictly speaking, this isn’t censorship. It’s not politically motivated to the same extent as social media bans. However, it can still heavily restrict your access to information.


Blocked Websites

Infographic showing types of blocked websites

Individual websites are also subject to censorship. For a variety of reasons, they might be considered a threat to a government or be otherwise socially or culturally unacceptable.

Certain content is prohibited by law, for example, child pornography, gambling, or extreme violence. But internet restrictions often go beyond that.

News media outlets

Blocking news outlets is a great limitation to freedom of speech. It’s often an extension of press censorship, in general. By blocking critical news websites or restricting access to independent online papers, governments often hope to hold off political opposition.

Additionally, foreign news sites such as BBC News are often banned. This further limits people’s access to information. Examples of countries where the press is heavily censored are Turkey and Iran.

An extension of internet censorship is self-censorship. In many places, journalists fear being persecuted for writing about certain topics. As a precaution, they censor themselves.

In countries such as North Korea and Myanmar, journalists can face violence, detention, and sometimes even death for speaking their minds. Self-censorship is the only way to keep themselves safe.

Finally, some countries have started blocking “fake news” websites. The European Union, currently, has a task force to fact-check news coming from Russia. Additionally, platforms such as StopFake and PolitiFact debunk misinformation.

It’s important to keep in mind that the definition of fake news is highly subjective. It might seem favorable for organizations to filter out the truth. But they will always do so according to their own political values.

Censorship is about controlling information and can have negative consequences, even when intentions are “good.” We must be watchful of governments who are just a little too eager to block certain content.

Pornographic sites

Adult websites suffer from a lot of censorship (there are still ways to access porn sites anonymously). Some countries don’t allow obscene material on the web.

Again, not all governments and cultures agree on what is obscene and what is not. While one country might only ban pornographic websites, another country may restrict websites that sell bikinis.

Human rights organizations and NGOs

In certain countries, human rights organizations and NGOs are banned. Especially those organizations that aim to protect online freedom and freedom of speech, such as Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International, face censorship.

The fact that these organizations are targeted, makes it even more difficult for people under certain regimes to get information on internet freedom and how to bypass online restrictions.


How to Bypass Online Censorship

Get around censorship iconThere are various ways you can circumvent internet censorship. In some cases, you have to download specific software. Other times, all it requires is a browser configuration.

Because the level of technicality can vary, we provide you with an extensive list of many options. That way, you can find a circumvention tool that suits you best.

First, we will discuss using a VPN. This is one of the easiest, safest, and most trustworthy tools you can use. We’ll explain how a VPN works and give you our top three VPNs for unblocking restricted content.


Bypass Online Censorship with a VPN

Connect to the Dark Web with a VPN iconThere are different reasons why you might want to use a VPN. If you’re traveling, you need services such as WhatsApp or Facebook to stay in touch with friends.

Additionally, if you’re working as a human rights activist, reporter, or writer, it’s important you have access to diverse resources, and that you can do your work without having to fear for your life.

Finally, a VPN is an excellent online protection tool that can be useful in any context.

Let’s take a closer look.

How does a VPN work?

If you’re using a virtual private network, your internet traffic runs through an encrypted VPN tunnel. In order to go online, you connect your device to a remote server.

Once you connect to a VPN, all your traffic is routed through another server (most likely in another country). This way, it’ll seem as if your device is in another location altogether.

How Does a VPN Work Illustration

The fact that you take on a different IP is what makes bypassing online censorship possible. When you use a VPN, you can choose a server in any country you like. You access the internet not with your own IP address, but with the IP address of that VPN server.

To internet service providers, it will look like you’re located in the country you’ve selected. This grants you access to social media platforms, websites, and other services that are available in that location.

A VPN also has a lot of other benefits. The fact that you can bypass restrictions lets you access the Netflix library of another country, for example. More importantly, VPNs provide you with online anonymity: your own IP address will be masked by the IP of the VPN server located elsewhere.

This makes it possible to browse anonymously and offers better protection against prying eyes. Additionally, VPNs are great security tools. Your data is encrypted and you’re less vulnerable to malware attacks or phishing scams.

Finally, most premium providers offer a ton of special features. Obfuscated servers are a prime example. Obfuscation hides the fact that you’re using a VPN.

With multi-hop connections, your traffic is sent through multiple servers, which keeps your data even more private. Some providers even offer built-in virus scanners or special servers for torrenting.


Top 3 VPN Providers to Bypass Internet Censorship

Best VPN iconWe have created a list of the three best VPN services that can help you bypass censorship. For this list, we have taken our general list of the best VPN providers and selected those providers with the best features required to fight censorship.

One challenge is that certain countries actively block VPN use or make use of a VPN illegal. For our top tree, we have selected those providers that have managed to stay available (almost) everywhere.

Additionally, we’ve made sure each provider has a money-back guarantee. This allows you to try out the service for yourself. If it’s not to your liking, you can cancel the subscription and get your money back.

Although there are decent free VPN providers, we don’t recommend them for the purpose of bypassing online censorship. Free VPN connections are often unsafe and the providers have a higher incentive to sell your data to other parties. On top of that, they usually have firm speed or data limits.

Are you traveling to a country where VPN services might be blocked? In that case, we advise you to install your VPN before leaving.

1. NordVPN

Screenshot of NordVPN's homepage

NordVPN is an excellent and reliable VPN provider that definitely belongs in our number one spot. They offer more than 5,000 servers around the world and have built quite the reputation for being trustworthy, secure, and effective in getting around online censorship.

If you care about your online privacy, NordVPN is the provider for you! They use top-notch encryption and they’re a verified no-logs provider. This means they don’t store any personal information on you that can be collected by authorities.

If you’re located in a country where privacy is compromised, this is a very important VPN feature. NordVPN has been consistently ranked at the top as being one of the best no-logs VPN providers in the market.

NordVPN also has a great track record when it comes to bypassing geo-blocked content. YouTube, WhatsApp, Skype, blocked news outlets; everything can be accessed using this VPN.

They offer a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can take your time to figure out if their services fit your needs.

NordVPN
Our pick
Our pick
Deal:
Only $2.98 a month for a two-year subscription with a 30-day money-back guarantee!
From
$2.98
9.3
  • Excellent protection and a large network of servers
  • Nice and pleasing application
  • No logs
Visit NordVPN

2. Surfshark

Surfshark VPN provider website homepage with added logo to the corner

Surfshark is a premium VPN that comes at a very attractive price, starting from a mere $2.30 a month. It’s a more affordable option than NordVPN, but still provides you with excellent security and online protection.

This VPN is a good tool for bypassing internet censorship. In fact, they’ve built a solid reputation around unblocking content. Based on our tests, the speed drop-off is minimal, so you’ll be able to access blocked content without worrying about longer page load times.

On top of that, they have a VPN server network of over 3,200 servers. More than enough locations! The 30-day money-back guarantee gives you the opportunity to test out the VPN and see if it meets your needs.

Surfshark
Deal:
Safe and anonymous internet for only $2.21 a month
From
$2.21
9.0
  • Very user-friendly and works with Netflix and torrents
  • 30-day money-back guarantee. No questions asked!
  • Cheap with many extra options
Visit Surfshark

3. Private Internet Access (PIA)

Screenshot of Private Internet Access VPN provider homepage with added logo in the corner

Our final recommendation is Private Internet Access (PIA). With over 30,000 servers worldwide, you’ve got a wide range of unblocking options at your disposal! On top of that, PIA is a user-friendly VPN that’s ideal for unblocking content.

PIA’s privacy policy is airtight, and they don’t log any data. On top of that, they’re decently priced and have the largest server network in the world.

Of course, they also have a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can take your time to test out the VPN first without worrying about a longer commitment.

PIA
Deal:
PIA is always well-priced with a 30-day money-back guarantee
From
$2.19
8.6
  • Strong focus on privacy and security
  • Good price
  • Fast and stable servers
Visit PIA

12 Other Ways to Bypass Internet Restrictions

As stated before, there are other ways to bypass online censorship. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments below.

1. The Onion Router (Tor)

Onion router iconTor (The Onion Router) is an online network that effectively functions as an internet browser. It is used for encrypted anonymous communication, and in general, Tor is quite safe.

The Tor network consists of thousands of servers worldwide. Data packets are divided into little pieces that subsequently pass through several layers of encryption and are 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 despite the speed trade-off, it keeps your online activity hidden. You can browse the internet completely anonymously.

This gives you a lot of freedom: with nobody knowing who you are and where you come from, no one can restrict you either.

It’s for this reason that Tor is also a gateway to the so-called “dark web.” Sites on the dark web aren’t accessible through conventional network routing, which is why you need a custom browser like Tor to gain access.

There’s no censorship or regulation on the dark web. This means it’s easy to bypass restrictions, but it also creates an environment of crime. Moreover, you can’t use Tor to unblock programs such as Skype, Twitter, or Facebook. It only lets you access browser content.

For most people, a VPN will be an easier, better, and more secure option than Tor.


2. Use a proxy website

Proxy server iconYou can use proxy websites to access content that’s otherwise blocked. A proxy relays your online activity and browser requests from an anonymous IP address that you get assigned once you connect to the proxy. In that way, a proxy works similarly to a VPN.

However, proxy servers are not always safe. They may log your requests and browser activity. If a proxy gets hacked, your data could end up in the wrong hands.

They’re also incredibly slow, and you don’t get a kill switch option. The choice of servers is also incredibly limited, making proxies a poor choice if you’re serious about unblocking censored content.


3. Change your DNS Server

Change DNS server iconThe domain name system is the system that lets internet users connect to specific websites. If you want to go to a website, you usually enter a domain name in your URL address bar.

Because the servers that handle your request can’t process the hostname like this, the DNS translates the domain to the machine-friendly identification address (IP) of the website you’re visiting.

The process of pulling up the correct site to match the request is called DNS resolution. DNS resolution is used as a way to impose censorship. When certain domains are censored, the internet service provider will “poison” the DNS request.

Say, you’re trying to access a blocked site from your country. Instead of getting the correct site, your ISP will redirect your request to a spoofed site or to a 404 Not Found page.

By changing your DNS server, you can get around this. Doing so, allows you to route your DNS request via a country where the domain is accessible. Keep in mind that your traffic is not encrypted. On top of that, your IP is not actually hidden.

Some VPN providers offer built-in smart DNS features. This technology unblocks websites and online media that are unavailable in your country of residence. Or, you can just use Google DNS or another Smart DNS, which is different from VPNs or proxies.


4. Use the IP instead of the URL

Use IP over URL iconAs stated above, each website’s URL has its own IP address. This is what the domain name system pulls up whenever you access a certain page. Certain censorship techniques end up blocking the URL, but not the IP address.

There are various ways to find out the IP address of blocked sites you’re trying to visit:

  • On Windows, go to the Command Prompt (via Start). Enter tracert followed by the website you’re trying to get the IP for (for example, “tracert VPNOverview.com”) and it’ll return the IP.
  • On Mac, open the Terminal. Then, write traceroute, followed by a space and the website address. For example, “traceroute VPNOverview.com” shall return the IP address for this website.
  • On mobile platforms, you can use third-party apps. For instance, Traceroute on the Google Play Store or Nice Trace on the App Store.

Note: These are third-party apps and links are only provided for convenience and informational purposes. This does not constitute an endorsement.


5. Use Google Translate or Google cache

Translation to unblock iconIn some cases, Google Translate can give you access to blocked content. Select any language other than English to translate from, but make sure you translate to English.

Paste the URL of the website you want access to into the translation box and click on the URL in the translated section. The translation tool will work like a proxy.

You can also use Google’s cache servers. To do this, enter “Cache:” in your browser, followed by the domain name of the website you need to access.

Rather than taking you to blocked sites, you will get the pages from Google’s cache servers, where they are saved locally for a brief period.


6. Wayback Machine

Wayback machine iconMaybe you’ve heard about Wayback Machine before. Also known as the Internet Archive, it’s the non-profit digital library of the internet.

Wayback Machine stores a copy of almost every website on the internet, including different versions of that website.

If you’re trying to find specific news articles that are unavailable in your country, or if you want to browse specific movies, documentaries, or e-books that are banned or censored, this is the place to go.


7. Subscribe to the site’s RSS feed

RSS feed iconCertain websites ask you to subscribe to their RSS feed. An RSS feed is a text file that’s created by a website publisher.

It’s a running list of all articles and content on the website that gets updated in real-time. For many people, this is a way to get news or updates from a certain site.

You have to use an RSS Reader like Feedly to read these feeds. This is a possible way to get around censorship. The software can load entire web pages into their feed, including blocked content.

The catch, of course, is that this method only works for blocked websites that offer a RSS feed in the first place. That’s why it works better for news sites and blogs than social media.


8. Try SSH tunneling

Change internet network iconSSH tunneling lets you forward requests through a remote server using SSH (Secure Shell). So, for this method to work, you’ll need an account for a remote server.

You can rent a dedicated server or purchase VPS hosting to get the IP address and the protocol needed to make the connection.

If you’re on Windows, you need an SSH client like PuTTY. On macOS, you can just use the Terminal. Then, you can just run the following command:

ssh -D 12345 [username]@[hostname].[domain]

You’ll have to enter your login details (available when you purchase access to a remote server) to establish the connection. Don’t close the terminal yet.

Now go to your browser, and find the option to add a manual proxy configuration. Just enter 127.0.0.1 in SOCKS hosts, and then the port number that you sent the SSH request through (12345 in this case).

Then, if you’re on Firefox, just open your browser and write “about:config” in the URL bar. Search for “network.proxy.socks_remote_dns” and set the setting to true.


9. Convert HTML to PDF

Html to PDF iconAnother clever and easy way of getting access to a certain article or website is by converting the HTML site into a PDF document. You can do so by using SodaPDF software.

This program will convert your blocked sites to PDF documents with one click. Just enter the full URL on the website and let the program do the work.


10. Use a URL shortener

Shorten URL iconIf a certain URL is blocked, it can help to use a shortener tool. A program like Bitly or TinyURL will customize the URL into a different, shorter version of it, one that’s likely not blocked.

This will only work if specific sites are blocked by your ISP or network administrator. It’s unlikely to work if websites are blocked nationwide by governments.


11. Browser extensions

Browser extension iconCertain browser extensions are designed to give you access to blocked content. These extensions are particularly useful for blocked sites with dynamic content, such as YouTube and social media platforms.

Here are some extensions you can try.

You can also check out the Opera browser, which has a built-in VPN.


12. Use Firefox from a USB drive to access blocked extensions

Portable browser from USB drive iconFinally, it’s possible that you’re not able to download certain browser extensions when you’re already located in a country with high degrees of censorship, or if you’re using a work or university network that won’t allow you to add extensions. In that case, you could use Firefox Portable.

This is a repackaged version of Mozilla Firefox that can be run from a USB flash drive, CD-ROM or another portable device. Since any previously installed add-ons are stored on the flash drive along with the browser, you can use these to circumvent censorship.


Final Thoughts

Censorship is a widespread phenomenon. Governments block social media platforms and news sites for political, social, or religious reasons. On top of that, tech companies have their own guidelines for deciding what digital content they allow.

One of the best ways to gain access to restricted sites is by using a VPN. This will allow you to change your virtual location and encrypt your online activity.

There are also other methods, including the TOR browser, changing your DNS server, or using a proxy or browser extension. However, for general internet freedom and online security, we recommend a VPN like NordVPN or Surfshark.

Bypass Online Censorship: Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have a question about bypassing online censorship? Below we have listed the most common questions. Simply click on the question to see the answer.

A VPN can help you bypass online restrictions. VPN software encrypts all your data traffic and hides your personal IP address. Instead of using your real location, you take on the IP address of a VPN server in a different country.

There are other ways to bypass online censorship too. For websites and internet service providers, it will look like you’re located in a place where those sites are not censored. This way you can easily bypass geographical restrictions.

In countries with strict political regimes such as China, Iran, and North Korea, you will see a high degree of internet censorship. But also in places like the United Kingdom and the United States, you’d be surprised at how censored the internet is.

Luckily, there are ways to circumvent these forms of censorship.

We recommend NordVPN for bypassing internet censorship. This VPN has excellent security features. Their wide range of servers allows you to access censored content from anywhere in the world. Moreover, they ensure a secure connection to the internet and offer many extra features.

Tech journalist
Tove has been working for VPNoverview since 2017 as a journalist covering cybersecurity and privacy developments. She has broad experience developing rigorous VPN testing procedures and protocols for our VPN review section and has tested dozens of VPNs over the years.