Since its inception, the Internet has allowed billions of people to have live access to information. The Internet is a great tool to educate, and train, but also find out what is happening all over the world in near real-time. Traditional media are all turning to digital. Social networks such as Twitter become also essential to get raw, unfiltered news about what is happening in the world.
A lot of countries and organizations have tried to manipulate the information that you can find online. Censorship on the internet is a reality for a lot of Internet users in the world. The reasons are essentially political or commercial.
In Asia, countries like Thailand and Myanmar are censoring access to information. Thailand, for instance, has implemented a blocklist for thousands of URLs that are completely inaccessible from any Internet network in the Kingdom.
Since the recent coup in Myanmar, the junta has also forced telecom operators to filter access to media platforms, they also try to prevent Myanmar citizens to connect to VPNs to escape censorship.
China is also well known for its censorship. The Great Firewall of China is probably the most advanced government internet censorship machine on the planet. This is why China ranks last in the Freedom House Ranking.
Myanmar and Vietnam are not so far behind…
How Internet censorship looks like
The first and most obvious form of censorship is to filter access to information. This is done by the use of firewalls that can block access to content based on IPs, URLs or even keywords. Thailand has a huge URL list that keeps growing over time. This URL list is regularly sent to Internet service providers in Thailand that must implement and ensure no Internet users can access any of these websites.
The second type of censorship is achieved through monitoring social networks. In some countries like Myanmar, you can get arrested and prosecuted for expressing your views on social networks.
In China, local social networks like Sina Weibo have hundreds of moderators whose job is to delete messages and even accounts that are not acceptable from the government’s standpoint.
There is a third type of filtering which cannot be called ‘censorship’ so to speak as the objective is to prevent you from using a specific service for commercial motive. Some telecom operators block/throttle communication apps such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. The main reason is that the use of such app to place voice calls impact the traditional voice revenue. Hence, these operators are trying to prevent you from using these apps so you are forced to use traditional voice call which they charge for. This is the case in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for instance.
Is Laos censoring the Internet?
In Laos, Internet users will not face any website block of any kind. The Internet is completely unfiltered. If you face any sort of filtering that seems to be originating from Thailand, it probably means that your Internet provider sources Thai Internet, which is not 100% legal. Internet from Laos should be completely unfiltered and clean of any censorship messages coming from Thailand.
That being said, social networks such as Facebook are under scrutiny and people are not allowed to say what they want too openly. The freedom of speech in Laos is still very low and there is a close surveillance of people’s views and opinions in the country.
The Lao government monitor social media usage for content that depicts Laos negatively. Back in November 2019, a Laotian citizen was sentenced to 5 years in prison for criticizing the government in a Facebook post.
Should I use a VPN in Laos?
There is no real necessity to use a VPN in Laos, in the sense that the Internet is not filtered or monitored in any way by the use of technology.
A VPN will not protect you if you post sensitive content on social networks, as the government will usually take advantage of your personal information to track you back.
VPN can still be useful in Laos if you tend to connect to Wi-Fi hotspots in hotels, restaurants, or cafés. These types of hotspots can be used by hackers to intercept some of your communication and as such, the use of a VPN is always recommended while using a Wi-Fi hotspot no matter where you are in the world.
How do I know if my Internet is being filtered?
OONI stands for Open Observatory of Network Interference. OONI uses crowdsourcing information from all over the world to document Internet censorship.
This non-profit organization released a probe that can help you find out whether your Internet Service Provider is blocking or altering your Internet service.
The probe is available in Desktop version (Windows & MacOS) and Mobile version (Android and iOS). It is fairly easy to use, you just have to download the tool, then you will have access to several tests broken down by category: websites, instant messaging, etc…
We have run the tool for Unitel and Lao Telecom and the results are below: