Skip to main content
Amnesty International UK
Log in

The great social media crackdown

Reading this from North Korea? No? Didn’t think so. The big weird world of the interweb is completely off limits for the average North Korean. In many countries, a blog like this one would be considered way too risky for public circulation.

Frighteningly, crackdowns on freedom of expression on social media are on the up, particularly during times of political and social unrest.

And it’s no surprise. Social networks can facilitate collaboration and communication among protesters, activists, journalists – and the rest of the world. Feeling the heat, governments try to curb the threat of public unrest by cutting off the lines of communication.

‘If you want to liberate a country, give them the internet.’
Wael Ghonim, Egyptian activist

Earlier this year the Turkish authorities blocked access to YouTube in an attempt to quash anti-government sentiment ahead of elections in the country. The government also officially banned Twitter after the network refused to take down an account accusing a former minister of corruption.

In September 2013, Vietnam passed a law prohibiting citizens from posting anti-government content on the social network.

And perhaps the most notorious social censor – China – blocked Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube in 2009 after a peaceful protest broke into deadly riots in Xinjiang.

More on how to get around this coming up later…

The dark art of digital spying

While millions of people are denied access to information, opinions, interactions and the plethora of Ryan Gosling memes that the internet has to offer, we’re only just starting to grasp the extent to which we’re being monitored and manipulated in the UK.

The unnerving discovery that the UK's intelligence agency (GCHQ) may have subjected people to blanket surveillance through its own mass-spying programme – Tempora – has led to us taking action against the UK government.

It’s likely that sensitive communications between activists around the world have been unlawfully accessed, potentially putting their safety at risk if such information was to end up in the wrong hands.

The plot thickens…

This week, Glenn Greenwald revealed that GCHQ has developed tools capable of changing the outcome of online polls, inflating web page views and censoring content deemed to be ‘extremist’.

The agency can also implement ‘Facebook wall posts for individuals or entire countries’ and amplify particular messages on platforms like YouTube, which is pretty alarming. You can see the full list of spy tools here.

But the government aren’t the only ones at it. 

When Facebook admitted to playing with our emotions in their algorithm experiment earlier this year, they claimed it was all in the name of ‘showing viewers the content they will find most relevant and engaging.’ So hey, don’t panic – it’s all in the name of good content! 

How to get around the Great Firewall of China

All is not lost if you do find yourself lacking adequate access to videos of sausage dogs doing the funniest things.

As promised, this nifty infographic by WhoIsHostingThis shows you how to get around some social media restrictions in action today*.

*Update: After two months of censorship, Turkey lifted the ban on YouTube in May. The country's highest court ordered authorities to restore access, saying the ban violated laws on freedom of expression.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
View latest posts