With the dawn of a new, imminent era brought by the Internet, it was clear to many that the Cold War was only going to continue. However, while not as serious nowadays, the Cold War is still a thing but the game has changed.
A few decades back, governments of the world used to throw spies around to gather information, now they can gather all they want from their homes, with a few clicks. Of course, spies still exist today, but I bet they’re a bit jealous on what skilled hackers can do.
A classic anti-propaganda tool used during the last century was censorship, and anyone could guess that it’s still around. Given the broad range of things you can find on the Internet, that’s not a surprise. Russia is among the countries that still uses this tool, as many sites “threaten the integrity of the Russian federation”.
According to Wikipedia, the first certain case of attempted censorship by the Russian government was back in December 2008, during the Vladivostok demonstrations, when they attempted to silence members of a forum board who spoke about the protests. They managed to do this by pressuring the moderators of the forum to restrict the posts about protests to unique ones.
Another important incident happened in March 2014, in the midst of the Crimean crisis. The Russian government then blocked certain websites and blogs which were urging people to protest. In between these two incidents, there were a lot more, with even The New York Times calling Russia out on their banning shenanigans, back in 2013.
The Other Side
While to an average American citizen, things may not seem that strict when it comes to Internet browsing, the USA have a lot more restrictions in place, with about a dozen categories (while Russia had about twenty banning incidents per total). While these aren’t necessarily in place to suppress the opinions of individuals, the American government still doesn’t let its citizens see what they don’t want them to see, and that’s where the two governments start looking alike.
A huge censorship incident related to the United States was the famous Wikileaks lawsuit, which prompted the government to ban the website, which hosted a plethora of classified information. The ban was lifted afterwards, due to the involvement of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which said that the measures taken were against the right to free speech.
A Necessary Evil
As I previously stated, not all bans are meant to conceal propaganda from the eyes of the public. Many of Russia’s bans were placed in order to prevent the ones that read the posts from damaging themselves and the others around them. For example, the news that Russia had banned Reddit blew up on the Internet a few days ago. However, it was later found out that only one thread is banned, in which a user thoroughly explains how to grow hallucinogenic mushrooms, which could cause addiction. In the United States, these bans are mostly concerning piracy sites, such as The Pirate Bay (which just keeps dodging them by switching addresses).
No “Magic Money” for the People!
Weirdly enough, all around the world, there are countries that have banned Bitcoin. Russia is perhaps the biggest and most important example, as it was the last one to ban the cryptocurrency. While there is no explicit law banning Bitcoin, CNBC has reported that Bitcoin is illegal in Russia since December 2014. It seems that the reason for this is so that banks still have control over the total capital of the country.
Other notable countries that have banned this coin are Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. Some countries allow Bitcoin, but with certain restriction. China, for example, forbids financial institutions to use Bitcoin under any circumstances, but personal use is okay. In Iceland, Bitcoin commerce and trading is forbidden, but mining is allowed.
Hacking – Spying 2.0
Something truly threatening which appeared at the same time as the Internet is hacking, and governments know that very well. There are various websites around the Internet which allow you to see where hacking attacks take place from, and what their target is. Surprisingly, Russia does not have much involvement in this niche, as most attacks are targeted to the United States, but from China. It’s a bit weird to see that another country tries harder than Russia to gain American secrets, but given that Russia and China have numerous accords in which Russia sells gas to China, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see China trading over some of the information their hackers find.
A Brief Conclusion
In the midst of a dangerous world, capable of launching nuclear bombs and bringing the end of mankind with the press of a button, is the Internet a threat if used correctly? Definitely. That is why governments need to protect their intellectual properties as well as they protect their physical ones. If a single virus can damage your computer so badly, imagine what it could do to nuclear plants.
As for censorship, is it a good thing? Not really, but in many cases, it is a necessary evil, as some things are better left alone.