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Internet Censorship in Russia –VPN usage in Russia increased by 900%

27 May 2022

International human right organizations have been expressing concern about how Russian authorities have been repressing free press for years. Instead of improving, the situation has gotten worse and worse until censorship involved the Internet as well. With the Ukraine invasion, furthermore, censorship in Russia has reached levels never seen before: Russian citizens can’t access thousands of websites and new ones are being obscured every month.

When it comes to online restrictions, however, there is a way of getting around them - a VPN usage. According to the latest report, a VPN usage in Russia increased by 900%

Censorship in Russia: a long history

Russia isn’t new to censorship. It has always been a political tool, a way for the authorities to control the narrative. The Internet, with its freedom and its democracy, must have - at least at the beginning - frightened the Russian authorities who have battened down the hatches by redacting a website blacklist with which they have been censoring the Internet since 2012.

With time, however, Russia has understood that the Internet wasn’t only an enemy: it could be used as a tool. By censoring some websites like Twitter or Facebook with one hand, and spreading fake news and propaganda with the other, Russia has been using the Internet to control the narrative, and not only in the country. It has been proven, for example, that Russia had a role during the Trump election in 2020: they didn’t falsify the election, but through the Internet, they made their best to polarize the American electors’ opinions so that Trump could be elected.

With the invasion of Ukraine, Russia has been doing the same. For months on the Internet there were thousands of articles speaking about how Ukraine was becoming too close to NATO, how Ukraine should “return” to Russia, and words like “war” and “invasion” are carefully being avoided.

Knowing that the narrative is being controlled by the authorities can be enough to defend yourself from the propaganda. But what about the tons of websites that citizens can’t access from Russia?

What kind of websites are being censored?

Other than every web article that speaks about the Ukraine situation in terms of war and invasion, censorship expands to any political dissent, LGBTQ+ content, pornography, dating sites, and more…

When a website is obscured by the authorities, for any person located in Russia it becomes (almost) impossible to get around the obstacle and connect to the website they like. As you may know, when you connect to the Internet your device is assigned a series of numbers: it’s your IP address. Being called an address is appropriate because, other than other information, that series of numbers include your geographical position.

There is a simple tool to check in real time whether a website is currently being censored in Russia. Social media services like TikTok, Twitter and Facebook were among the first to be subject of censorship.

This is how Russian authorities (and any other regime on the planet) are obscuring websites for their citizens. However, this is also how people can go around censorship and get the free Internet back.

Get around censorship: the VPN

If the reason why you can’t access a website is that your IP is revealing your location, the way of getting around the restriction must be to access the website with an IP address different from yours, and one that reveals a location different from yours (possibly a location where citizens have free access to the Internet, which is - luckily! - the majority of the countries in the world.

So, how can you obtain a different IP? The solution is provided by VPNs like Trust.zone.

How VPNs work

When you connect to any website without a VPN, your connection is almost direct: from your computer to the server where the website is located. The IP address that the website receives is one of your computers.

When you connect to any website and you use a VPN, what happens is this: your computer connects to one of the VPN servers. These servers are many and spread all over the world. Then, the connection with the website is made.

The IP address that the website receives is not yours, but one of the servers you are connected to. If the server is located in the US, for example, the website will grant access, even though you are physically located in Russia.

This is why one of the most common uses of VPN services is to overcome geo blocking when you need to watch streaming services in another country.

VPN and privacy

Getting around geographical restrictions isn’t the only advantage that a VPN can provide. Because your real IP address is not revealed, with a VPN you can also protect your privacy and remain anonymous.

Furthermore, many VPN providers also offer encrypting services. While you navigate the Internet, the VPN will encrypt all your information so that if anyone - for example, a totalitarian government - tries to hack you, they would only get encrypted information.

Conclusion

A VPN can help any citizen of the world get around geographical restrictions for any website. VPNs are the way the Internet is returning to be what it was born to be: the ultimate tool of freedom and democracy.

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