September 29, 2010

Youtube Censorship

An editorial in the NY Times this morning reminded me that Google is making some interesting data available about user created content, censorship and Geography on the Internet, namely Google's Transparency Project. It includes both data on government requests to censor and traffic flows by country. The direct requests to censor is a difficult variable to understand (i.e., not well specified, see the FAQ) but the traffic data reveals some really interesting patterns.

One of the most striking examples of censorship relates to Youtube which is also clearly tied to user generated content (of great interest to Floatingsheep). Using the Google interface one can see how access to this stream of user content has been restricted over time and space.

This is essentially one look at the flip side (location of consumption of user created content) of what Floatingsheep normally looks at (location of the production of user created content)

Some of the more striking examples are below (or play with the data yourself).

Given Canada's strong protection for personal liberty it is a good comparison to other countries. Note: all countries have some variation likely tied to normal congestion/outages on the Internet. The key is to look for big changes (i.e., drops) in the level of access. You can also compare the general level of access to Youtube between countries, e.g., compare Canada to Cuba.

CANADA, an example of a country with strong
protections for personal liberty

IRAN: Note the drop right after the disputed
2009 elections and protests

CHINA: Youtube is just not an option

TUNISIA: Also blocking Youtube

CUBA: Some access but lower than Canada

PAKISTAN: Access but an effort to censor during
a specific time period

TURKEY: Perhaps the most interesting, declining availability
of Youtube over time.


  1. So when the access declines, they are only censoring portions of Youtube?

  2. It is not entirely clear from Google's FAQ on this. My interpretation is that it more likely that some ISPs in a country are blocking youtube while others are not. China has very good firewalls and can block most traffic, other countries interested in blocking may simply not be as successful.

    A sustained drop (like shown