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- Digital Resources
Censorship and deliberate misinformation plague the modern media, the internet access of many countries, and traditional news sources. The ultimate challenge to a power structure comes from the ability of people under it to understand it. Without understanding and knowledge of a power, one cannot mount the offense needed to dismantle or change it.
Any system of power, society, or decision-making apparatus that aims to maintain power or govern and anybody who is affected by it.
Those in power have become quite adept at hiding information from public view that could threaten their ability to retain it. Governments and corporations worldwide engage in efforts to censor the flow of this information and the ability of people to discuss and act on it. Because circumvention is an inevitable by-product of censorship, they also work to plant misinformation to satisfy the inherent human need to know.
Misinformation, on its own, is not dangerous. To take an example, a conspiracy theorist's views or slanted media coverage are not particularly dangerous as the marketplace of ideas should be able to neutralize them and give people better options. Unfortunately, the marketplace of ideas among traditional media sources is severely weakened. According to FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), "Almost all media that reach a large audience in the United States are owned by for-profit corporations--institutions that by law are obligated to put the profits of their investors ahead of all other considerations. The goal of maximizing profits is often in conflict with the practice of responsible journalism." According to Ben Bagdikian who published "The Media Monopoly" which analyzes increasing consolidation of media ownership in the United States, less than six companies own over 90% of media in the country. Misinformation is easily discredited and neutralized by having access to alternative viewpoints but with less than 10% of media outlets being independent, how can people really have access to those viewpoints?
When combined with censorship, misinformation becomes incredibly dangerous. Censorship aims to prevent people from accessing information. The censor becomes the sole decider as to who can access what information. The posterchild of this problem are nations controlled by totalitarian regimes such as North Korea. In North Korea, the independent press is simply outlawed and the average person is not even allowed to use the internet. Those reporting accounts which differ from the official government stance are often imprisoned, sent to "re-habilitation" camps, killed, or simply "disappeared" in the night. When censorship is combined with misinformation, the market of ideas is simply killed.
Circumvention is both a tactic and a strategy for reviving the marketplace of ideas, exposing corruption, and re-enabling the free flow of information. While most people think of circumvention as being a technological measure, it doesn't necessarily need to involve a modem, an internet connection, or a computer. Circumvention simply needs a method to access an uncensored repository of information. This repository could be a person from a foreign country who brings in contraband documents with them or an illicit billboard exposing government misinformation.
Technological circumvention is perhaps the most widespread and useful type of circumvention. As more and more nations decide to censor the internet and place limits on what people can do online, the ability to bypass firewalls and remain anonymous becomes more and more important. Technological circumvention tools include proxies, peer-to-peer networks, and rogue websites which operate outside the jurisdiction of their censors.
Rogue websites are perhaps the simplest form of technological circumvention. By hosting websites outside of the jurisdiction of the censorsing country, the censor loses the ability to control access to these websites. Many blogs critical of the Chinese government, for example, are hosted in the United States where they are safe from censors.
Peer-to-peer networks enable people to bypass censorship and access media content that might not be available through traditional means such as web access. They can exist solely within a nation, circumventing the need to go through a government firewall. Because of the diversity of peer-to-peer networks and the difficulty in indexing them for censorship purposes, they are powerful tools for distributing archives of documents, videos, photos, circumvention tools, and other static content. Unfortunately, they are difficult to use for web browsing or interactive communication. Examples of peer-to-peer networks include BitTorrent, GNUNet, and Freenet.
Proxies and proxy networks are the most versatile technological circumvention tools. They give people under censorship the ability to connect to peer-to-peer networks which they are barred from accessing, browse the web, use the internet anonymously, and, in some cases, host websites and online services of their own. Many one-hop proxies and Virtual Private Networks such as Xerobank exist, but they only protect ones anonymity and circumvention abilities to the extent that they can continue to operate and stand by their users. As they hold the keys to de-masking users and disabling their internet access, these providers often roll over under government pressure. Proxy networks are different as they route a user through several different proxy servers which do not have the ability to single-handedly betray the user. The most technologically advanced proxy network at this time is Tor. It routes a user's connection through three different proxy servers none of which can demask the user without the collusion of the others. The connections are all encrypted making them too difficult to eavesdrop on and the network makes efforts to hide it's "network signature" meaning even the most sophisticated firewall can't block it as there is no way to differentiate between Tor and other services such as online bakning. As an added feature, it also provides the ability to people to anonymously host websites in a 'darknet' where every user is anonymous. Another example of a proxy network is I2P which contains many similar features but it not as popular or useful as Tor.
People must build tools and networks to make it easier to engage in circumvention and these tools must be widespread enough to be useful in times of social unrest and crisis. New methods for building these tools must be discovered as circumvention is ultimately a cat-and-mouse game.