The internet is defined as a global computer network. This definition makes you think that it can be enjoyed from all corners of the world. You would expect that whenever you go, you would be able to access your favorite websites and applications. In reality, however, the internet is not omnipresent, as the definition claims it is.
More than half of the world’s population still does not have access to the internet, with Asia and Africa having the lowest rates of access, as reported by the United Nations. Of the 7.6 billion people in the world, only 3.58 billion, which is 48 percent of the global population, are using the internet. And every year, despite continuing technological progress, global internet access is getting worse, not better.
The rate of its growth has slowed in the past two years, according to an analysis from the Web Foundation. Not only is the internet not global now but it is not going to be so in the near future.
To complicate people’s access to the internet, many totalitarian governments censor content published on various websites. There are plenty of countries in the world where websites get banned, for political, religious, or ethical reasons. And these websites are not promoted by some extremist groups. You will be surprised to know that such common websites as Facebook and such indispensable searching engines as Google are blocked in China, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Tajikistan.
In other words, if you travel to these countries for business or holidays, you will be able to send a message to your Facebook friends only if you install a VPN for Facebook on your computing devices. Without it, your Facebook friends will never get updates about your trip, until, that is, you return to a country where this social network is allowed.
There are also countries where Facebook is not officially banned but still remains inaccessible. Or it is accessible but heavily censored. In Cuba, the government permits people to use Facebook only discriminatorily. Only politicians, journalists, and medical students can log in to this social network from home. The rest of the population can enjoy the internet solely and exclusively at internet cafes. Slow speed in these internet cafes is not the major problem that the Cubans have when going there to surf online.
The internet in Cuba is mercilessly expensive. An hour of unlimited access to the internet in Cuba costs between $6 and $10. Considering that on average people earn here only $20, the price of the internet looks exorbitant indeed. Not many people are desperate enough to throw away half of their monthly salary for a privilege to read posts and comments on Facebook for an hour.
In Bangladesh, Facebook is easily accessible. But its citizens see on it posts different from the content enjoyed by the rest of the world. In the wake of the scandal in 2010, Facebook in Bangladesh became heavily censored. That year, Facebook was shut down for an entire week, after satirical images of the Prophet Muhammad along with the country’s political leaders were posted on its pages.
The images appeared after people had been invited to participate in a competition held by some Facebook users that were called “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.” A spokesman for the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) said that Facebook had hurt the religious sentiments of the country’s predominantly Muslim population.
Pakistan followed suit and also banned Facebook for posting images of the Prophet, but its anger spread further to Wikipedia, YouTube, and Flickr, just to be on a safe side. Since then, the government of Bangladesh has started a surveillance campaign on Facebook, blocking any content that it deems offensive.
The country that outdid Bangladesh and Pakistan in its draconian measures against Facebook and other Western websites and apps in China. It has disconnected itself from the global internet altogether. For many years already, China has its own versions of all popular Western websites, blocking Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and Google so successfully that its young people have no idea that they even exist.
Instead of Facebook, people in China use WeChat that has become their most significant social media platform. WeChat combines features of Facebook’s messenger with the utility of Venmo and PayPal, which allows users to express opinions in group chats, share memorable moments on the “Moments Wall,” and even book a taxi. The platform also has public accounts of companies and famous personalities for promotional purposes. Given the popularity of WeChat, Facebook seems to be missed in China only by ex-pats and Chinese-Americans visiting their home country for holidays.
The real reason for blocking Facebook in China is not its people’s preference for local social media networks, however. It is political. Facebook was first blocked following the July 2009 Ürümqi riots after the government noticed that Xinjiang activists were using Facebook for their political purposes.
Since then, the Communist party started controlling the internet, deleting posts and blocking Western websites. Within a short period of time, together with Facebook, it banned such well-known websites and apps as Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Snapchat, Picasa, WordPress.com, Blogspot, SoundCloud, Google+, and Hootsuite.
People are also not permitted to use WhatsApp, Messenger, Viber, Telegram, Periscope, Line, and Discord. Nor do such search engines as Google, Ask.com, Yahoo!, and Duck Duck Go work in the country. Video sharing through YouTube, Vimeo, Daily Motion, and Nico Video is disallowed, and so is watching movies on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, and SoundCloud.
With all these hostilities and furious attacks unleashed on Facebook in China, Pakistan, or North Korea, it comes as a relief to recollect that Facebook remains the world’s largest social media and publishing platform.
It has 2.45 billion monthly active users, and its popularity increases by 8 percent every year. We just need to hope that those governments that block Facebook will come to their senses and will permit their people to enjoy its unparalleled platform.