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Unlocking real news sites in the “splinternet”

The Internet is splintering, and the Ukraine crisis is accelerating it. 

They call it the “splinternet,” and it matters. Most people know that Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Google don’t work in China, but Wikipedia, LinkedIn, and Reddit are also blocked.

Russia has blocked access to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, while India has banned TikTok, WeChat, Weibo, Baidu Maps, and 58 other Chinese apps for security reasons.

As the Internet splinters, your online experience increasingly depends on where you live. Where you’re born has always had a huge bearing on your freedoms, income, and life expectancy.  

In 2022, it also determines what kind of information you have access to, leading to the splinternet. 

Find out why this matters and how you can bridge the information divide.

What is the “splinternet”?

Splinternet is a portmanteau (a blend of two different words) that combines “split” and “Internet.” 

It’s not a new concept, as the Internet has been fragmenting for years, with nation-states censoring content for political purposes. In 2022, the world increasingly has a country-by-country version of the Internet, where governments decide what citizens can see and post online. 

Since invading Ukraine, Russia has blocked access to Facebook and Twitter after complaining about the fact-checking of war-related posts. Deutsche Welle (DW), Voice of America, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty websites have been banned in Russia, too. 

Facebook, Google, YouTube, and TikTok are also blocking Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik in EU countries.

The splinternet defies one of the web’s founding principles: ‘information wants to be free.’ 

While regulating freedom of speech in any country — let alone the entire planet — is complicated with no obvious answers. The Internet can only work if everyone has free access to knowledge and information.

Fighting fake news is getting harder

Illustration of verified website

The Russian government is building a parallel Internet inside its borders, which gives the Kremlin complete control over what its citizens can see and post online.

Russia has also passed a law that threatens 15 years jail time to anyone reporting “fake news.” As a result, CNN, BBC, and others have stopped broadcasting in the country, and their news sites are no longer visible.

China has one of the most tightly regulated online spaces, where restrictions to foreign websites and services lie behind what’s known as “The Great Firewall of China.”

Authoritarian governments are tightening controls over the Internet, so they can track your online activity, censor content, and prevent political mobilization.

Many VPNs — a popular service used to hide IP addresses and keep your Internet traffic and browsing private — are banned in China, with access to them blocked outright.

Iran has also blocked VPN services, with only government-approved ones permitted, making them useless. Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are also unavailable in that jurisdiction.

Personal VPNs are illegal or restricted in:  

  • China (illegal)
  • Russia (illegal)
  • Belarus (illegal)
  • North Korea (illegal)
  • Iraq (illegal)
  • United Arab Emirates (legal with restrictions)
  • Turkey (legal with restrictions)
  • Egypt (legal with restrictions)

The free and open Internet envisioned by the web pioneers in the 1990s is splintering, and that’s why we need virtual bridges.

Bridging the divide with virtual private networks

illustration of a mobile device with VPN

With a virtual private network (VPN), you can access real news, listen to foreign podcasts, and post freely on social media by hiding your IP address. 

By replacing your IP with a remote server in another country, you can read, stream and access content that’s unavailable in your region.

A VPN can protect your online privacy if you use it correctly, creating a tunnel between your device and the Internet. 

By using a virtual IP instead of your real location, the authorities will struggle to identify your whereabouts, enabling you to bypass surveillance.

With authoritarian governments actively blocking content, we need to find smarter ways to share information freely.

Russians turn to VPNs to combat social media ban

After the Ukraine invasion on February 24, Russian citizens have been using virtual private networks to bypass government censorship.

Internet searches in Russia for VPN nearly doubled between March 4 and March 10, compared to the previous week, with 260,000 searches on March 5, the day after Facebook was banned. 

While VPN apps in Apple’s App Store and Google Play Store in Russia collectively saw nearly 6 million downloads between February 24 to March 8.

The demand for VPN in Russia suggests that citizens are actively looking for ways to access real news sites.

Protecting your Internet freedom 

From mass surveillance to social media crackdowns, authoritarian regimes have expanded their censorship laws in 2022.

It’s speeding up the splinternet and what we once called the world wide web, which has become a disjointed collection of websites.

Without access to free information, we’ll continue to fragment and live in parallel realities with all the discord that brings. 

A shared sense of reality is impossible if the Internet splinters into rival infospheres, and if every country has its own facts, that doesn’t bode well for international relations.

Many of us take our basic freedoms for granted, including free expression, information, and assembly, which are under threat as authoritarian governments censor real news.

So if you value free and open information, remember the power of bridges, as the ability to speak freely can disappear without them.

If you want to unlock real news sites, try FastVPN for free for one month. We accept PayPal, Visa, Mastercard, Bitcoin, and American Express.

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Daniel Agnew

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