Censorship of Wikipedia

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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.

By country


Chinese Wikipedia was launched in May 2001.[2] Wikipedia received positive coverage in China's state press in early 2004, but it was blocked on 3 June 2004 on 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.[2] 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.[3] On 22 June 2004, access to Wikipedia was restored without explanation.[2] Wikipedia was blocked again for unknown reasons in September,[4] but only for four days.[2] 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."[2]

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.[5] 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.[6] Advocacy organization Reporters Without Borders praised Wikipedia's leaders for not self-censoring.[7]

On 10 November 2006, Lih reported that Chinese Wikipedia appeared to have been fully unblocked.[8] 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.[9]

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]".[10] However, subsequent reports suggested that both the Chinese and English versions had been reblocked the next day on 17 November.[11] On 15 June 2007, access to apolitical articles on English Wikipedia was restored.[12] On 6 September 2007, IDG News reported that English Wikipedia was blocked again.[13] On 2 April 2008, The Register reported that the blocks on English and Chinese Wikipedias were lifted.[14][15] 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.[16] 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.[17] The blocking of Chinese Wikipedia not only reduced group size of its users, but also decreased the nonblocked users' contributions by 42.8% on average, according to a report published on American Economic Review in 2011.[18] As of 2012, both Chinese and English Wikipedias are accessible in China[19] 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.[20]

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.[21] 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".[22]

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;[23] as of June 2015, both encrypted and un-encrypted Chinese-language Wikipedia are blocked.[24] On August 31 the Chinese Wikipedia main pages 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. It seemed that Wales' statement reminded the Chinese government that they had only blocked the Chinese version of Wikipedia, because Beijing completely blocked all language versions of the site again on the afternoon of 4 December (local time).[25] A large number of Chinese netizens complained about this blocking on social networks, although most of the complaints had been deleted after a short period.[26] However, it became possible to visit Wikipedia in other languages on the afternoon of December 6 (local time) in China again.[27]

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 is the first time they met, there is no consensus on specific issues, but "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. A reporter asked if he would order Wikipedia to hide some information to maintain stable operations in China, he responded "never."[28] 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 official translation, which turned out to be that this kind of improvements will help governments to better analyze online communications.[29]


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.[30][31] 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.[30][32] 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.[33][34] As a result of the controversy, the article became the most read page on the French Wikipedia,[35] with over 120,000-page views during the weekend of 6/7 April 2013.[36] It was translated into multiple other languages.[37] The French newspaper 20 minutes,[38] Ars Technica,[35] and a posting on Slashdot,[39] 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.[40]

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".[41]

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.[42] 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.[43] 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.[44]


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."[45] 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."[46] In May 2014, according to Mashable, the Iranian government blocked at least two pages on the Farsi Wikipedia.[47]

According to Reporters Without Borders, the Iranian government has blocked access to Kurdish Wikipedia for extended periods of time.[48]


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).[49] 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.[50] 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.[51][52][53]

The English version of Wikipedia was blocked in Pakistan for several days in May 2010 during the controversy surrounding Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.[54][55]


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.[56][57][58]

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.[59] 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 all the site with all language versions of Wikipedia could be blocked in Russia from the night on 25 August.[60] According to the reports, there were intermittent blocking of Russian non-mobile version in certain regions, but mobile version continued to operate.[61] 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".[62] According to Wikimedia Russia director, the page was quickly edited by Wikipedia volunteers to avoid violations of the law, and maybe 10-20% of Russian users felt issues with Wikipedia access at the night of 25th.[63]

Saudi Arabia

On 11 July 2006, the Saudi government blocked access to Google and Wikipedia for its sexual and politically sensitive content.[64][65] Many articles from the English and Arabic Wikipedia projects are censored in Saudi Arabia.[66]


Access to the Arabic Wikipedia was blocked in Syria between 30 April 2008 and 13 February 2009, although other language editions remained accessible.[67][68]


The Wikimedia website was inaccessible from Tunisia between 23 and 27 November 2006.[69]


In the early hours of 29 April 2017, monitoring group Turkey Blocks identified loss of access to all language editions of Wikipedia throughout Turkey.[70][71] The administrative measure came after Turkish authorities asked Wikipedia to "remove content by writers supporting terror and of linking Turkey to terror groups," a request to which the government did not receive a satisfactory reply.[72]

Before, Turkey had only censored specific articles on the 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 of the Internet providers, TTNET, speculated that Wikipedia was broken. Katherine Maher from the Wikimedia Foundation said this did not reflect the truth.[73]

United Kingdom

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 cover image and the illegality of child pornography; the image had been assessed as the lowest level of legal concern: "erotic posing with no sexual activity".[74] As a result, people using many major UK ISPs were blocked from viewing the entire article by the Cleanfeed system,[74][75][76] 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,[77] and public complaints,[78] the IWF reversed their decision three days later, and confirmed that in future they would not block copies of the image that were hosted overseas.[79]


The entire Wikipedia was briefly blocked twice in Uzbekistan, in 2007 and 2008.[80] Blocking of the Uzbek Wikipedia caught the attention of the international press in late February 2012.[81] 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.[82]

As of October 2016, the Uzbek Wikipedia is available for Uzbekistan users when the HTTPS protocol is used.

See also


  1. ^ "Turkish authorities block access to Wikipedia: monitor". Arab News. 29 April 2017. Retrieved 29 April 2017. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Pan, Philip (20 February 2006). "Reference Tool on Web Finds Fans, Censors". The Washington Post. Beijing. Retrieved 23 December 2011. 
  3. ^ Montopoli, Brian (30 November 2006). "Is Wikipedia China Really Wikipedia?". CBS News. Associated Press. Archived from the original on 4 August 2011. Retrieved 23 December 2011. 
  4. ^ "Alert: Authorities block access to online encyclopaedia". International Freedom of Expression Exchange. 21 October 2005. Retrieved 23 October 2011. 
  5. ^ Cohen, Noam (16 October 2006). "Chinese Government Relaxes Its Total Ban on Wikipedia". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 December 2011. 
  6. ^ "China PARTIALLY unblocks Wikipedia". andrewlih.com blog. Retrieved 24 December 2006. 
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  8. ^ "Chinese Wikipedia now fully unblocked?". andrewlih.com blog. Retrieved 24 December 2006. 
  9. ^ "Chinese Wikipedia's Surge in Growth". andrewlih.com blog. Retrieved 24 December 2006. 
  10. ^ "Wikipedia unblocked in China after year-long ban". Reuters. Retrieved 24 December 2006. 
  11. ^ "The Nanny changes her mind: Wikipedia blocked again". DANWEI. Retrieved 24 December 2006. 
  12. ^ "English Wikipedia unblocked in China". Retrieved 20 June 2007. 
  13. ^ Schwankert, Steven (6 September 2007). "Wikipedia Blocked in China Again". IDG News via PCworld. Retrieved 26 January 2008. 
  14. ^ Barak, Sylvie (3 April 2008). "China uncensors Wikipedia". The Inquirer. Retrieved 3 April 2008. 
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  18. ^ Group Size and Incentives to Contribute: A Natural Experiment at Chinese Wikipedia, Xiaoquan (Michael) Zhang, Feng Zhu. American Economic Review. Jun 2011, Vol. 101, No. 4: Pages 1601-1615
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  20. ^ "Academics break the Great Firewall of China", Tom Espiner, ZDNet, 4 July 2006
  21. ^ McMillan, Graeme (4 June 2013) "Chinese authorities apparently started blocking access to the site this past May 31", Digital Trends.
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  23. ^ Naidu, Sumisha (2 December 2015). "Wikipedia boss to lobby China to unblock website". Channel News Asia. Singapore. Retrieved 5 December 2015. 
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  36. ^ "Wikipedia article traffic statistics for 'Station hertzienne militaire de Pierre-sur-Haute'". stats.grok.se. 
  37. ^ List of translations on Wikidata
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  56. ^ "Russia May Block Wikipedia Access Over Narcotics Article | RIA Novosti". RIA Novosti. 6 May 2013. 
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  61. ^ "Российские провайдеры начали блокировку "Википедии"". РИА Новости. Retrieved 15 May 2016. 
  62. ^ "Ъ - Роскомнадзор удалил статью "Википедии" из реестра запрещенных сайтов". Retrieved 15 May 2016. 
  63. ^ "Спорную статью "Википедии" отредактировали сами пользователи". Retrieved 15 May 2016. 
  64. ^ http://archive.arabnews.com/?page=1&section=0&article=85616&d=19&m=7&y=2006 Archived 7 August 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  65. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20120203072715/http://www.arabianews.org/english/article.cfm?qid=189&sid=2. Archived from the original on 3 February 2012. Retrieved 23 September 2011.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  66. ^ Wikipedia:List of articles censored in Saudi Arabia
  67. ^ Institute for War and Peace Reporting (3 June 2008). "Syrian youth break through internet blocks". Retrieved 1 February 2010. 
  68. ^ (in Arabic) Arabic Wikipedia Disappears From The Internet in Syria, Menassat, 19 May 2008 (English translation)
  69. ^ "Tunisia: Censoring Wikipedia?", Sami Ben Gharbia, Global Voices, 27 November 2006.
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  72. ^ "Wikipedia blocked across Turkey". Hurriyet Daily News. 29 April 2017. Retrieved 29 April 2017. 
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  74. ^ a b Arthur, Charles (8 December 2008). "Wikipedia row escalates as internet watchdog considers censoring Amazon US over Scorpions image". Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 8 December 2008. 
  75. ^ "Wikipedia child image censored". BBC News. 8 December 2008. Retrieved 8 December 2008. 
  76. ^ AP: Wikipedia article blocked in UK over child photo Archived 10 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  77. ^ "Censorship in the United Kingdom disenfranchises tens of thousands of Wikipedia editors", Wikimedia Foundation press release, 7 December 2008
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  79. ^ "IWF statement regarding Wikipedia webpage". Internet Watch Foundation. Archived from the original on 7 June 2009. Retrieved 9 December 2008. 
  80. ^ "Uzbekistan Blocks Its Wikipedia". RIA Novosti. 17 February 2012. Retrieved 21 February 2012. 
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External links

  • Full Text: Cui Objects to Wikipedia Shutdown (translated by The Washington Post Beijing Bureau)
  • Full Text: Shi's Defense of Wikipedia (translated by The Washington Post Beijing Bureau)
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