Censorship of Wikipedia

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Censorship of Wikipedia has occurred in several countries, including China, France, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey,[1] the United Kingdom and Uzbekistan. Some instances are examples of widespread internet censorship in general that includes Wikipedia content. Others are indicative of measures to prevent the viewing of specific content deemed offensive. The length of different blocks have varied from days to years. When Wikipedia ran on the HTTP protocol, governments were able to block specific articles. However, in 2011 Wikipedia began also running on HTTPS, and switched over entirely in 2015.[2] Since then, the only censorship option is to block the entire site, which resulted in some countries banning the site altogether, and others dropping their bans.

By country[edit]


Access to Wikipedia has varied over the years with the Chinese language version being controlled more tightly than other versions. As of 2018, the Chinese and Japanese versions are blocked, but other versions are accessible.

Chinese Wikipedia was launched in May 2001.[3] Wikipedia received positive coverage in China's state press in early 2004, but it was blocked on 3 June 2004, ahead of the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. Proposals to practice self-censorship in a bid to restore the site were rejected by the Chinese Wikipedia community.[3] However, a story in the International Herald Tribune comparing entries on Chinese Wikipedia and English Wikipedia on topics such as Mao Zedong and Taiwan concluded that the Chinese entries were "watered down and sanitized" of political controversy.[4] On 22 June 2004, access to Wikipedia was restored without explanation.[3] Wikipedia was blocked again for unknown reasons in September,[5] but only for four days.[3] Wikipedia was blocked in China in October 2005. Wikipedia users Shi Zhao and Cui Wei wrote letters to technicians and authorities to try to convince them to unblock the website. Part of the letter read, "By blocking Wikipedia, we lose a chance to present China's voice to the world, allowing evil cults, Taiwan independence forces and others . . . to present a distorted image of China."[3]

In October 2006, The New York Times reported that English Wikipedia was unblocked in China, although Chinese Wikipedia remained blocked. New media researcher Andrew Lih blogged that he could not read the English-language article on the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 in China.[6] Lih said that "there is no monolithically operating Great Firewall of China", noting that for users of various internet service providers in different locations in China–China Netcom in Beijing, China Telecom in Shanghai, and various providers in Anhui—Chinese Wikipedia was only blocked in Anhui.[7] Advocacy organization Reporters Without Borders praised Wikipedia's leaders for not self-censoring.[8]

On 10 November 2006, Lih reported that Chinese Wikipedia appeared to have been fully unblocked.[9] Lih confirmed the full unblocking several days later and offered a partial analysis of the effects based on the rate of new account creation on Chinese Wikipedia. Prior to the unblocking, 300–400 new accounts were created on Chinese Wikipedia daily. In the four days after the unblocking, the rate of new registrations more than tripled to over 1,200 daily, jumping into the second fastest growing Wikipedia after the English version. Similarly, there were 75% more articles created in the week ending on 13 November than during the week before. Coming on the same weekend that Chinese Wikipedia passed the 100,000 article mark, Lih predicted that the second 100,000 would come quickly but that the existing body of Chinese Wikipedia users would have their hands full teaching the new users basic Wikipedia policies and norms.[10]

On 16 November 2006, Reuters news agency reported the main page of Chinese Wikipedia could be displayed, except for some taboo political subjects, such as "4 June, [1989 protests]".[11] However, subsequent reports suggested that both the Chinese and English versions had been reblocked the next day on 17 November.[12] On 15 June 2007, access to apolitical articles on English Wikipedia was restored.[13] On 6 September 2007, IDG News reported that English Wikipedia was blocked again.[14] On 2 April 2008, The Register reported that the blocks on English and Chinese Wikipedias were lifted.[15][16] This was confirmed by the BBC, and came within the context of foreign journalists arriving in Beijing to report on the 2008 Summer Olympics and the International Olympic Committee's request for press freedom during the games.[17] In September 2008, Jimmy Wales had a meeting with Cai Mingzhao, Vice Director of China's State Council Information Office. While no agreements were made, Wales believes that a channel of communication has been opened between Wikipedia's community and the PRC Government.[18]

According to a report published in American Economic Review in 2011, the blocking of Chinese Wikipedia not only reduced the group size of its users, but also decreased the nonblocked users' contributions by 42.8% on average.[19]

In 2012, both Chinese and English Wikipedias were accessible in China[20] except for political articles. If a Chinese IP tries to access (including searching) a "sensitive" article, the IP will be blocked from visiting Wikipedia for from several minutes to up to an hour.[21]

Chinese authorities started blocking access to the secure (HTTPS) version of the site on 31 May 2013, although the non-secure (HTTP) version is still available – the latter is vulnerable to keyword filtering, allowing individual articles to be selectively blocked. Greatfire urged Wikipedia and users to circumvent the block by using HTTPS access to other IP addresses owned by Wikipedia.[22] In 2013, after Jimmy Wales stated that Wikipedia will not tolerate "5 seconds" of censorship, Shen Yi, an Internet researcher at Fudan University in Shanghai said, that while "Wikipedia is tough against the Chinese government, it may not necessarily be so grand when faced with US government or European justice systems' requirements to modify or delete articles or disclose information".[23]

Since June 2015, all Wikipedias redirect HTTP requests to the corresponding HTTPS addresses, thereby making encryption mandatory for all users. As a result, Chinese censors cannot see which specific pages an individual is viewing, and therefore cannot block a specific subset of pages (such as Ai Weiwei or Tiananmen Square) as they did in past years. As a result, Beijing chose to block the whole Chinese Wikipedia;[24] as of June 2015, both encrypted and un-encrypted Chinese-language Wikipedia are blocked.[25] On 31 August the Chinese Wikipedia main page was unblocked, but only for a short few minutes. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said he would fly to China to lobby the Chinese government to unlock the site within two weeks at the Leadership Energy Summit Asia 2015 in Kuala Lumpur on 2 December 2015. The government of the People's Republic of China completely blocked all language versions of the site again on the afternoon of 4 December (local time).[26] A large number of Chinese internet users complained about this blocking on social networks, although most of the complaints had been deleted after a short period.[27] However, it became possible to visit Wikipedia in other languages on the afternoon of 6 December (local time) in China again.[28]

Jimmy Wales met Lu Wei, the director of Cyberspace Administration of China on 17 December 2015 during the World Internet Conference held in Wuzhen, Zhejiang. Wales said that this was the first time they met and there was no consensus on specific issues, but that the purpose of the meeting was for the two to "meet and know each other". Wales told Lu Wei how Wikipedia and Wikimedia work in the world, and expressed the hope to establish regular meeting mechanism with Lu Wei and Cyberspace Administration of China in the future. When a reporter asked if he would order Wikipedia to hide some information to maintain stable operations in China, he responded "Never."[29] But even Jimmy Wales' own words have been censored: He said that the improvements in machine translation might make it "no longer possible" for authorities to control flows of information in the future during a panel discussion. However, in the official translation, his statement was that such improvements will help governments to better analyze online communications.[30]

The encrypted Japanese Wikipedia has been blocked in China since 28 December 2017.[31]


Rémi Mathis, an administrator on the French Wikipedia, was ordered by the French government to delete an article.

In April 2013, a Wikipedia article describing the Pierre-sur-Haute military radio station attracted attention from the French interior intelligence agency DCRI. The agency attempted to have the article about the facility removed from the French language Wikipedia. The DCRI pressured Rémi Mathis, a volunteer administrator of the French language Wikipedia and resident of France, into deleting the article.[32][33] The Wikimedia Foundation asked the DCRI which parts of the article were causing a problem, noting that the article closely reflected information in a 2004 documentary made by Télévision Loire 7, a French local television station, which is freely available online.[32][34] The DCRI refused to give these details, and repeated its demand for deletion of the article. According to a statement issued by Wikimédia France on 6 April 2013:

The DCRI summoned a Wikipedia volunteer in their offices on April 4th [2013]. This volunteer, which was one of those having access to the tools that allow the deletion of pages, was forced to delete the article while in the DCRI offices, on the understanding that he would have been held in custody and prosecuted if he did not comply. Under pressure, he had no other choice than to delete the article, despite explaining to the DCRI this is not how Wikipedia works. He warned the other sysops that trying to undelete the article would engage their responsibility before the law. This volunteer had no link with that article, having never edited it and not even knowing of its existence before entering the DCRI offices. He was chosen and summoned because he was easily identifiable, given his regular promotional actions of Wikipedia and Wikimedia projects in France.

Later, the article was restored by another Wikipedia contributor who lived outside France.[35][36] As a result of the controversy, the article became the most read page on the French Wikipedia,[37] with over 120,000-page views during the weekend of 6/7 April 2013.[38] It was translated into multiple other languages.[39] The French newspaper 20 minutes,[40] Ars Technica,[37] and a posting on Slashdot,[41] noted it as an example of the Streisand effect in action. The French Ministry of the Interior told the Agence France-Presse that it did not wish to comment on the incident.[42]

According to a judicial source quoted in an AFP story on 8 April, the article's deletion "was performed as part of a preliminary inquiry" led by the "anti-terrorist section of the Paris prosecutor's office" on the grounds that the French language Wikipedia article compromised "classified material related to the chain of transmission for nuclear launch orders".[43]

Following the incident, Télévision Loire 7 said that it expected that the DCRI would request that it take down the original 2004 report on which the Wikipedia article was based, though it had been filmed and broadcast with the full cooperation of the French armed forces.[44] The National Union of Police Commissaires suggested that the next step would be for the judiciary to order French Internet service providers to block access to the Wikipedia article.[45] However, the France-based NGO Reporters Without Borders criticised the DCRI's actions as "a bad precedent". The organisation's spokesperson told Le Point that, "if the institution considers that secret defence information has been released, it has every opportunity to be recognised by the courts in arguing and clarifying its application. It is then up to the judge, the protector of fundamental freedoms, to assess the reality and extent of military secrecy." The spokesperson noted that the information contained in the article had come from a documentary that had previously been filmed and distributed with the cooperation of the army, and that the hosts and intermediaries should not be held responsible.[46]


In a November 2013 report published by the Center for Global Communication Studies of the University of Pennsylvania, researchers Collin Anderson and Nima Nazeri scanned 800,000 Persian language Wikipedia articles and found that the Iranian government blocks 963 of these pages. According to the authors, "Censors repeatedly targeted Wikipedia pages about government rivals, minority religious beliefs, and criticisms of the state, officials, and the police. Just under half of the blocked Wiki-pages are biographies, including pages about individuals the authorities have allegedly detained or killed."[47] Anderson said that Persian Wikipedia, as a microcosm of the Iranian internet, is a "useful place to uncover the types of online content forbidden and an excellent template to identify keyword blocking themes and filtering rules that apply across the greater internet."[48] In May 2014, according to Mashable, the Iranian government blocked at least two pages on the Persian Wikipedia.[49]

In 2015, the Wikipedia software migrated to HTTPS protocol, leaving the Iranian government with no choice but to either block it completely or not block it at all. Iran chose the latter. Wikimedia Commons was blocked during the first half of 2016, but the block was lifted since then.


On 4 October 2011, following a decision adopted by the community, the contents of the Italian version of Wikipedia were hidden and the website was blocked by its administrators, as a protest against paragraph 29 of the "DDL intercettazioni" (Wiretapping Bill).[50] The proposed bill would empower anyone who believes themselves to have been offended by the content of a web site to enforce publication of a reply, uneditable and uncommented, on the same web site, within 48 hours and without any prior evaluation of the claim by a judge or to face a €12,000 fine.

On 4, 5 and 6 October, all pages on the Italian version of Wikipedia redirected to a statement opposing the proposed legislation.[51] On 7 October, the Italian Wikipedia pages were again available, but a notice about the proposed legislation was still displayed at the top of pages.


For seven hours on 31 March 2006, the entire domain of Wikipedia.org was blocked in Pakistan because one article contained information pertaining to the controversial cartoons of Muhammad.[52][53][54]

The English version of Wikipedia was blocked in Pakistan for several days in May 2010 during the controversy surrounding Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.[55][56]


On 5 April 2013, it was confirmed by a spokesperson for the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (also known as Roskomnadzor) that Wikipedia had been blacklisted over the article "Cannabis Smoking" on Russian Wikipedia.[57][58][59]

On 18 August 2015, an article in Russian Wikipedia about charas (Чарас), a type of cannabis, was blacklisted by Roskomnadzor (executing an order of a provincial court issued two months earlier) as containing detailed description on making narcotics.[60] Wikipedia argued that article was originally written using UN materials and textbooks, but on 24 August it was included in the list of forbidden materials, sent to Internet providers of Russia. As Wikipedia uses HTTPS protocol, effectively the entirety of the site with all language versions of Wikipedia could be blocked in Russia from the night on 25 August.[61] According to the reports, there were intermittent blocking of Russian non-mobile versions in certain regions, but mobile versions continued to operate.[62] In the morning on 25 August Roskomnadzor excluded the article from the list of forbidden materials, saying that "We have been informed by the Federal Drug Control Service that sufficient edits were made to met the conditions of court order".[63] According to Wikimedia Russia's director, the page was quickly edited by Wikipedia volunteers to avoid violations of the law, and around 10-20% of Russian users felt issues with Wikipedia access at the night of 25th.[64]

Saudi Arabia[edit]

On 11 July 2006, the Saudi government blocked access to Google and Wikipedia for what it said was sexual and politically sensitive content.[65][66] Many articles from the English and Arabic Wikipedia projects have been censored in Saudi Arabia.[67] Wikipedia has also been blocked at least once since then.[68]


Access to the Arabic Wikipedia was blocked in Syria between 30 April 2008 and 13 February 2009, although other language editions remained accessible.[69][70]


The Wikipedia website was inaccessible from Tunisia between 23 and 27 November 2006.[71]


In the early hours of 29 April 2017, monitoring group Turkey Blocks identified loss of access to all language editions of Wikipedia throughout Turkey.[72][73] The block came after Turkish authorities demanded Wikipedia "remove content by writers supporting terror and of linking Turkey to terror groups"; a demand for which the government stated that it did not receive a satisfactory response.[74]

Before, Turkey had only censored specific articles on Turkish Wikipedia, such as "Kadın üreme organları" (vulva), "insan penisi" (human penis), "2015 Türkiye genel seçim anketleri" (2015 Turkey general election polls) "vajina" (vagina) and "testis torbası" (scrotum). There was no court decision for this censorship. One Turkish internet provider, TTNET, speculated that Wikipedia was broken. Katherine Maher from the Wikimedia Foundation said this did not reflect the truth.[75]

As of May 2018, Wikipedia remained blocked in Turkey.[76] However, it is accessible in Turkish universities with eduroam coverage.

United Kingdom[edit]

In December 2008, the Internet Watch Foundation, a UK-based non-government organization, added the Wikipedia article Virgin Killer to its internet blacklist due to the album cover's image and the illegality of child pornography in that country; the image had been assessed by IWF as being the lowest level of legal concern: "erotic posing with no sexual activity".[77] As a result, people using many major UK ISPs were blocked from viewing the entire article by the Cleanfeed system,[77][78][79] and a large part of the UK was blocked from editing Wikipedia owing to the means used by the IWF to block the image. Following discussion, representations by the Wikimedia Foundation,[80] and public complaints,[81] the IWF reversed their decision three days later, and confirmed that in future they would not block copies of the same image that were hosted overseas.[82]


The entirety of Wikipedia was briefly blocked twice in Uzbekistan, in 2007 and 2008.[83] Blocking of the Uzbek Wikipedia caught the attention of the international press in late February 2012.[84] Internet users in Uzbekistan trying to access Uzbek-language pages were redirected to MSN. Users in Uzbekistan could easily open Wikipedia articles in other languages. Only Uzbek-language articles were blocked.[85]

In October 2016, the Uzbek Wikipedia became available for Uzbek users when the HTTPS protocol is used.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]