In Has Your Blog Been Banned or Blocked?, I asked if your blog has been blocked or banned and how you found out, and what you did about it, if you could do anything. I recently published How to Access Banned WordPress.com Blogs in response to WordPress.com blogs being blocked and recent problems I’ve had trying to access my blogs and Gmail from various hotels and corporate WIFI firewalled networks.
From the stories people have shared, blocks and bans can happen from a variety of sources, not just from within a country. Blocks are in place within businesses, libraries, educational institutions, hotels, and even Internet cafes.
When a friend asked me how would she know if her blog was blocked from any potential readers, I thought it was a question worth investigating. How do you know if your blog is blocked or banned?
How Do You Know If Your Blog is Blocked?
Blog and website bans and blocks happen due to legal decisions against a specific blog, or a blog service, such as all Blogspot and WordPress.com blogs being blocked due to the challenges in blocking subdomains. Internet Providers can choose to block specific types or categories of sites to protect their users, whether or not their users understand that these types of sites may be inaccessible. The Great Firewall of China is an example of a government imposing restrictions on their citizens as to what they can access via the web. Businesses and educational institutions install software and firewalls which also prevent access to specific sites and online services to “protect” their employees or students, as well as preventing time-wasting, non-business related Internet use.
So how do you know if your block is blocked through any of these types of blocks?
Most bloggers learn through the news which general groups of blogs are being banned or blocked. WordPress.com announced bans in Turkey and Brazil, and China has been a long running battle, along with occasional bans in other Middle Eastern and Asian countries. Google Blogspot/Blogger blogs are banned consistently or from time to time in China, Pakistan, Turkey, India, and other countries as well as in libraries, schools, and businesses. MySpace, Facebook, and other social blogging and networking services are often blocked or banned by countries, businesses, and educational institutions. Even Google or some Google tools such as email are banned. Word spreads from news reports and word-of-mouth alerting you to whole groups of people having trouble accessing your site if you are on one of those services and not self-hosted.
A friend living in one of those places or working for a specific business or school may alert you personally when they can’t access your blog, too. Some are using Twitter to ask those in China and other sites which often ban blogs to test their sites manually to see if their blogs are blocked.
If you have friends, family, co-workers, or potential readers in China, the odds are that your blog is blocked, though it might not be. China is notorious for blocking tons of blogs, news, and informational sites with the Great Firewall of China, including blocking access to Technorati and Wikipedia. According to the China Web2.0 Review, estimates are that by the end of 2008, there will be 99 million blogs in Chinese, most of them based in China, which could put pressure on the government to open up the Great Firewall of China, though hopes are dim.
Beyond the news and word-of-mouth, how do you know if your blog is banned?
Blogs Banned by Web Security and Filtering Programs
If you work in a corporation or educational institution, you can manually check if your blog (or a friend’s) is banned or blocked by trying to access it from there. Or visit your local library and try accessing your blog. If your blog is blocked from these sites, the odds are that it is blocked by many company, educational institution, or government using a commercial blocking and filtering program.
Many companies invest in protective blocks and filtering programs, like WebSense, that deny access to specific sites or sites with specific keywords. BoingBoing is a frequent target of such bans, as are many technical, educational, and legal sites. Not long ago, blogger David Byrne blogged about having been blocked from BoingBoing from the Denver International Airport, and I and many attending the Successful and Outstanding Bloggers Conference (SOBCon) this year were blocked from Gmail, WordPress.com, and other sites through the free hotel WIFI, so these blocking programs can be found anywhere.
These programs look for features that make the site “restricted” for access such as forums, blogs, social networks, bookmarks, interactivity, and keywords like sex, porn, terrorism, and even words like censor and censorship. A title like my blog post, Designing a Rainbow – Sexy Hot Colors, has been reported banned from access occasionally, though generally my site is banned because it is a blog and on WordPress.com, a double whammy strike-out for some.
They categorize sites and then the company administrator decides which categories to block. They can block all newsgroups, public email services, gambling, personal sites, and choose from a wide variety of other classifications. But who chooses which category your site is in, and how do you know which category your site is in?
Two sites that report on the review and category status of your site, which may impact your blog’s category for inclusion or exclusion from web blocking and filtering programs are Lightspeed Systems and Blue Coat.
Blue Coat reported Lorelle on WordPress in the Newsgroups/Forums category and offered an easy method for me to change it to Education with the secondary category as Blogs/Personal Sites, not the best options but the options don’t cover Technical Writing or a better category for my blog.
Lightspeed Systems rates Lorelle on WordPress as R-Rated Content:
May be suitable for high schoolers under the supervision of an adult. Includes adult material, drugs, violence, gambling, un-moderated forums, social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook, Orkut, blogs, and dating.
I’m horrified by that categorization, especially grouped with drugs, violence, and adult material. Not very forward thinking to classify blogs accordingly. I requested a manual review, explaining that my blog does not feature adult content but educational and technical articles, with a little slap to expand the blog category beyond R ratings.
To determine your blog’s category with Websense, you must register as a user and use their Site Lookup Tool to check your blog. If the categorization is incorrect, you can use the Websense Suggest a URL option to submit a new category for your blog and await a response. Most people report a favorable response, though some have to jump through more hoops to get their categorization changed if there is doubt.
How to You Know If Your Blog is Blocked Internationally?
China uses Websense and other strong filtering programs to create the Great Wall of China, but how do you know if your blog can be accessed from China?
Digital Inspiration offers How to Check If Your Website Is Blocked In China or Not and China blocking Blogger blogs During the Olympics as guides to determine if your blog is blocked in China by checking to see if your blog will pass the “ping” test. If you get a report of “Packets lost” to the China servers, the odds are that your site is blocked in China. The services include Just Ping, Watch Mouse, and Website Pulse.
Search the web for ping testing servers in other countries to test your blog’s URL and see if they pass the test, thus may be accessible from within the country.
What Do You If Your Blog is Banned?
Among the many sites blocked by Websense have been Amnesty International, Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, The Shoah Project, Jewish Federation of Northeastern Pennsylvania, DisabilityGuide.org, Dignity of Victims Everywhere, John Dvorak, and Autism Behavioural Intervention Queensland, classified under their various category systems as gambling and sex sites. As mentioned, if your blog has been classified inappropriately, you can contact Websense and other filtering services to get your classification changed.
When a government or large corporation or institution blocks your blog, there is little you can do about it. While I would love to have everyone potentially blocked by China send emails and letters to the Chinese government formally requesting their sites be unblocked, it isn’t likely to have an impact, though such a grassroots effort might help.
However, for institutions with more open minds, a politely written formal request to unblock your site might help open your site to their demographics.
The request should be sent via snail mail rather than email, as that tends to carry greater weight. Find the single person or department head that is best placed to address your request by contacting the company and asking. Include one to three printed article samples showcasing the general subject matter of your blog and a single page formal letter outlining the ban and the reasons your site should be removed from the ban list.
Has your blog been banned? How did you find out and what did you do about it?