By Hala Mounib
In our previous piece regarding censorship, I discussed many of the problems surrounding censorship. Many social media platforms and other news sources have taken it upon themselves to censor information with which they do not agree or information that they do not think should be spread. This type of censorship causes echo chambers where people only hear and read information with which they agree, further entrenching them in their political views. A such example would be the recent ban that China imposed on all language editions of Wikipedia.
This type of censorship can at times be viewed as unethical and unnecessary. However, there are many possible solutions that may be necessary to stop unethical censorship. This would aid the public in gaining access to open unadulterated information online and allow all types of information to be spread, regardless of political leanings.
Funding independent DNS servers
A Domain Name System (DNS) is a protocol that essentially translates online domain names into IP addresses in order to retrieve websites. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can tamper with DNS and compromise its records, configuring it to return the wrong IP address and causing it to render a different webpage than the one requested by a user, effectively censoring content online 3.
It’s possible to avoid this by funding independent DNS servers created by people who put both privacy and freedom of information first. ISPs cannot configure foreign DNS servers to render inaccurate IP addresses unless they attempt to carry out a Distributed Denial of Service attack (DDOS), bringing down the whole server from excess traffic and alerting those who are using it of the possibility of state censorship.
Supporting decentralized browsers like TOR and I2P
Unlike common browsers, The Onion Router (TOR) and the Invisible Internet Project overlay (I2P) allow individuals to access websites that are unindexed by mainstream search engines like Google. Using non-standard protocols, virtual lack of traceability is ensured, and the anonymity of the individual is maintained along with their online habits and transactions. TOR and I2P grant access to a larger layer of Internet. Three-hundred times larger than the surface web, the Deep Web, residence of numerous whistleblowing websites akin to WikiLeaks, holds a key to a future of open Internet.
Web traffic is first encrypted then bounced randomly through different nodes, concealing any identification of the user as their IPs remain undetected. The openness of the surface web may not be restorable, but the deep web provides a satisfactory uncensored alternative.
Maintaining donor records
Individuals who choose to donate to platforms that endorse political parties could be forced to have their donation sources readily available in the public domain. Privacy in such donations could imply a hidden motive or an agenda. Open journalism does not operate in secrecy.
However, this solution could be seen as an encroachment on the First Amendment and freedom of speech. By exposing who is donating, the government could actually be passing a law that discourages freedom of speech via donation giving. Maintaining donor records may not be as effective of a solution and could face Constitutional challenges.
Archiving all intellectual records
Some online communities, such as the subreddit /r/DataHoarder, contribute to the archiving of all online published information to prevent any loss in the cyber intellectual record, which would result in a form of censorship. Had it not been for the archiving of several articles published The Guardian and The Telegraph, people wouldn’t have known of the censorship that took place during the 2003 U.S. presidential campaigns, when these platforms took down articles for the sake of pushing political agendas 1.
Fixing the current state of the surface net is complex and potential solutions may seem farfetched However, creating a better and more open Internet is possible. SpaceX’s Starlink sheds light on the possibility of upending the Internet, bringing back net neutrality and restoring free Internet for everyone.
When private companies like Google or Facebook resort to censorship, they aren’t technically violating the First Amendment and freedom of speech. They are free to exercise their freedom of speech and right of association as protected by the Constitution. However, they are doing a great disservice to society by stifling public discussion about important topics and suppressing the diversity of ideas. These solutions could be useful in attempting to deal with censorship.
Hala Mounib is a Policy Research Fellow at the American Freedom Institute