Our partner Jigsaw supported VICE News in the making of a new documentary series, BLACKOUT, about the global struggle for free expression and how technology is transforming the fight. The irony isn’t lost on us that the people who would be the most empowered by watching BLACKOUT will probably never see it.
The spread of the internet has accelerated the cat and mouse game between censors and those who would like to get around them. One side believes that information should flow freely across the internet. The other side believes that speech on the internet can be controlled, manipulated, and censored. This struggle plays out in countries all around the world, including those featured in BLACKOUT, from Pakistan to Venezuela to Eritrea.
Just as repressive governments race to find ways to restrict access to the internet, activists, journalists, and ordinary citizens find clever ways to bypass government firewalls. But repressive governments are getting more proficient at blocking proxies, VPNs, and other circumvention technology. At least two-thirds of the world lives in countries with some form of internet censorship.
To show how difficult it is for much of the world to access the free and open internet, we’ve created an experiment to help share BLACKOUT with people living in the most repressive societies. We built a custom version of Firefox with uProxy pre-installed, and we've made it available as an installer for windows, the operating system that the vast majority of our users use. For people living in countries that “throttle” the internet we also added compressed videos on our site so even people with very slow connections can watch the film and share it.
Making the videos downloadable is a conscious choice. In countries like Cuba or North Korea, where internet connectivity is almost nonexistent, people download content, put it on hard drives, and distribute it offline. In Cuba it’s called El Paquete. And only a few weeks ago, Human Rights Foundation started an initiative called Flash Drives for Freedom that aims to distribute content from South Korea into North Korea using simple memory sticks.
None of this is convenient or pretty. Accessing blocked content in repressive societies can be a real pain—and for some people it can be dangerous.
Watch BLACKOUT on YouTube and try uProxy for yourself at uproxy.org/blackout.