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By Alice Kirkland / 4 February 2014
Today Facebook celebrates its 10th anniversary. The social networking giant now has over 1.23 billion users, but there are still political leaders around the world who don’t want their country to have access to the site, or those who have banned it in the past amid fears it could be used to organise political rallies.
Perhaps the most secretive country in the world little is known about internet access in Kim Jong-un’s nation. Although a new 3G network is available to foreign visitors, for the majority of the population the internet is off limits. But this doesn’t seem to bother many who, not knowing any different, enjoy the limited freedoms offered to them by the country’s intranet, Kwangmyong, which appears to be mostly used to post birthday messages.
A limited number of graduate students and professors at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology do have access to the internet (from a specialist lab) but in fear of the outside world many chose not to use it. Don’t expect to see Kim Jong-un’s personal Facebook page any time soon.
In Iran, however, political leaders have taken to social media- despite both Facebook and Twitter officially being extraordinarily difficult to access in the country. Even President Hassan Rouhani has his own Twitter account, although apparently he doesn’t write his own tweets, but access to these accounts can only be gained via a proxy server.
Facebook was initially banned in the country after the 2009 election amid fears that opposition movements were being organised via the website.
But things may be beginning to looking up as Iran’s Culture Minister, Ali Jannati, recently remarked that social networks should be made accessible to ordinary Iranians.
The Great Firewall of China, a censorship and surveillance project run by the Chinese government, is a force to be reckoned with. And behind this wall sits the likes of Facebook.
The social media site was first blocked following the July 2009 Ürümqi riots after it was perceived that Xinjiang activists were using Facebook to communicate, plot and plan. Since then, China’s ruling Communist Party has aggressively controlled the internet, regularly deleting posts and blocking access to websites it simply does not like the look of.
Technically, the ban on Facebook was lifted in September 2013. But only within a 17-square-mile free-trade zone in Shanghai and only to make foreign investors feel more at home. For the rest of China it is a waiting game to see if the ban lifts elsewhere.
Facebook isn’t officially banned in Cuba but it sure is difficult to access it.
Only politicians, some journalists and medical students can legally access the web from their homes. For everyone else the only way to connect to the online world legally is via internet cafes. This may not seem much to ask but when rates for an hour of unlimited access to the web cost between $6 and $10 and the average salary is around $20 getting online becomes ridiculously expensive. High costs also don’t equal fast internet as web pages can take several minutes to load: definitely not value for money for the Caribbean country.
The posting of a cartoon to Facebook saw the networking site shut down across Bangladesh in 2010. Satirical images of the prophet Muhammad, along with some of the country’s leaders, saw one man arrested and charged with “spreading malice and insulting the country’s leaders”. The ban lasted for an entire week while the images were removed.
Since then the Awami-League led government has directed a surveillance campaign at Facebook, and other social networking sites, looking for blasphemous posts.
As Egyptians took to the streets in 2011 in an attempt to overthrow the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak the government cut off access to a range of social media sites. As well as preventing protestors from using the likes of Facebook to foment unrest, many websites registered in Egypt could no longer be accessed by the outside world. Twitter, YouTube, Hotmail, Google, and a “proxy service” – which would have allowed Egyptians to get around the enforced restrictions- seemed to be blocked from inside the country.
The ban lasted for several days.
Syria, however, dealt with the Arab Spring in a different manner. Facebook had been blocked in the country since 2007 as part of a crackdown on political activism, as the government feared Israeli infiltration of Syrian social networking sites. In an unprecedented move in 2011 President Bashar al-Assad lifted the five year ban in an apparent attempt to prevent unrest on his own soil following the discontent in Egypt and Tunisia.
During the ban Syrians were still able to easily access Facebook and other social networking sites using proxy servers.
Producing fake online profiles of celebrities is something of a hobby to some people. However, when a Facebook page proclaiming to be that of Mauritius Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam was discovered by the government in 2007 the entire Mauritius Facebook community was plunged into darkness. But the ban didn’t last for long as full access to the site was restored the following day.
These days it would seem Dr Ramgoolam has his own (real) Facebook account.
Another case of posting cartoons online, another case of a government banning Facebook. This time Pakistan blocked access to the website in 2010 after a Facebook page, created to promote a global online competition to submit drawings of the prophet Muhammad, was brought to their attention. Any depiction of the prophet is proscribed under certain interpretations of Islam.
The ban was lifted two weeks later but Pakistan vowed to continue blocking individual pages that seemed to contain blasphemous content.
During a week in November 2009, Vietnamese Facebook users reported an inability to access the website following weeks of intermittent access. Reports suggested technicians had been ordered by the government to block the social networking site, with a supposedly official decree leaked on the internet (although is authenticity was never confirmed). The government denied deliberately blocking Facebook although access to the site today is still hit-and-miss in the country.
Alongside this, what can be said on social networking sites like Facebook has also become limited. Decree 72, which came into place in September 2013, prohibits users from posting links to news stories or other news related websites on the social media site.banned | China | Facebook | Iran | north korea