Egypt’s Internet may be back on, but that country’s weeklong web blackout was a wake-up call to the rest of the world about just how fragile the intertubes really are. Ars Technica has a detailed technical breakdown of how Internet “kill switches” work— in Egypt’s case, it was basically just a matter of cracking down on the country’s four major ISPs — but for an at-a-glance visual distillation of the who/what/why of web censorship, it’s hard to beat this sobering set of infographics.
First, who’s doing it? The above map, based on data from the press-freedom watchdogs at Reporters Without Borders, paints a grim picture: Almost all of the industrialized “first world” Internet is moderately to pervasively censored by government authorities. There are obvious and practical reasons for having some online surveillance, but the fact that only countries like Mongolia and Madagascar have a completely open web is rather shocking to see illustrated so starkly.
Unfortunately, after a strong start, the infographic goes a bit downhill from there. Whatever info the unnamed designers pulled from the reputable sources at the Open Net Initiative gets turned into vague mush in the image above. Using circles to compare data is tricky enough to do correctly (see example #6 here), but even assuming their geometry is correct, what do those percentage values mean, exactly? Are 20% of all blogs in existence actually being censored? Or do 20% of blogs contain content that is “commonly censored,” as the caption implies?
And here an unsourced Venn diagram lends visual legitimacy to what appears to be complete speculation or anecdotal observation on the part of the designers. (Those observations are probably not far off the mark, though, especially for those countries smack in the middle.) The ONI’s own interactive censorship visualizations, while not as pretty, are probably more informative.
That said, there’s no harm in whipping together a pretty-darn-good visual snapshot of the state of global web censorship while the subject happens to be hot in people’s Twitter feeds. So bravo, Yuxiyou.net! But for your next one, maybe take a little more time with the research before firing up Adobe Illustrator.