There’s not a day that goes by without having technology in the news. However, sometimes it is there for the wrong reasons. Most recently, some of the largest social media networks were making headlines in Algeria (and around the world), but probably not for the reasons that you might imagine. It has been reported that the North African nation has blocked all access to the leading social media sites, because students had been discovered cheating, using exams posted on Facebook and other services.
Is this the strangest reason to suppress a technology?
The Details in Algeria
According to news sources, police in Algeria had recently arrested a number of individuals who had leaked exam papers and questions through social media. A number of students had apparently gained access to the leaked documents, forcing the government to have over 500,000 Algerian students retake national exams for university admission.
Not seeing that as enough, the government made a swift move to cut off social media access across the country. This includes the world’s largest networks, such as Twitter and Facebook.
Is this a form of censorship, or is it necessary to prevent cheating in the country? While the government sees it as necessary, it is interesting to note that only social media pages have been blocked, which means that exams can still be leaked through websites, privately over email, or through instant messaging services. Although it might stop sharing on the most popular platforms, it can in no way guarantee the prevention of online cheating.
There has been both positive and negative feedback online. Just take a look at some of the following quotes from the comment section of UK based news outlet, The Independent.
“It has nothing to do with false papers, plus Algerians were back online minutes after the block using free vpn services.”
“Better to block Facebook for good”
The first comment is interesting, and a good point. Many internet savvy teens and young adults will be able to use proxy services and VPN (Virtual Private Network) services to bypass the country-wide ban.
In the long term, it will be interesting to see how long the government will block access for, and whether it will actually have any impact on cheating in the education system.
Other Controversial Forms of Technology Censorship in Recent Times
- In 2015, the Turkish government considered banning Minecraft, a hugely popular open world sandbox game. Turkish critics denounced the game as being too violent.
- In China, internet access is widely censored and restricted. All of Google’s main services are not accessible, including Docs, Maps, Google Search, YouTube, and others. China also blocks Facebook and Twitter.
- Although often thought of as liberal and open, especially when compared to North Korea, South Korea has censorship practices of its own. The country bans pro-North Korea websites, and routinely censors internet content that is critical of government officials.
- Even the United States is a country that has a pervasive level of censorship (and online surveillance) in several categories.
Internet censorship is something that exists (at least in some form) in every country that has regulated internet access. Some believe that what was once an open system for communication, sharing, and learning, may become a highly censored and restricted resource. Only time will tell if this turns out to be true.