YouTube Censored: A Recent History

YouTube has become a hugely popular venue for social media, and a powerful tool for political activism and civic engagement. Countries on five continents have blocked YouTube, which is owned by Google, for political, social, and security-related reasons.

Press the ‘play’ icon for a brief history of the censorship of one of the world’s most popular websites.
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Drawing on media reports and our own research, ONI has traced a rough history of YouTube censorship since 2006. Each year is divided into quarterly periods; for each period in which a government imposed some level of filtering on YouTube, the country in question will turn either light or dark blue. It will remain blue for the entirety of the period, regardless of the number of days or weeks that filtering occurred. Level 1 (light blue) denotes periods in which specific videos were blocked either nationwide, or in which YouTube was blocked by some but not all ISPs. Level 2 (dark blue) denotes periods in which the entire site was blocked nationwide.

How is this map different from ONI's other social media filtering map?

ONI's social media filtering map gives viewers a rough overview of where a number of popular social media sites have been censored at any point since their creation. This map focuses on YouTube specifically and gives a more detailed picture of when filtering has happened since 2006.

Level 1

While many governments have filtered YouTube in order to limit public exposure to content that may ignite social or political unrest, others have blocked specific videos when the content of a video violates national law. Cases range from violations of ethics or morality-based law, to copyright infringement, to national security legislation.

Here are a few examples seen on the map:

Another instance of Level 1 filtering occurred in South Korea, where any site with over 100,000 visitors per month must collect the name and national ID number of each visitor. In the case of YouTube, users were prompted to enter their personal information when seeking to load content or add comments. Google argued that this constituted an invasion of privacy and consequently disabled users’ abilities to contribute content or comments. In April of 2010, South Korea made an exception to the rule, and users may now visit and add to site freely, though other sites of similar scope must continue to comply with the rule.

Level 2

Some governments respond to trends in video content (often political or social) or to specific videos by completely blocking YouTube. Other countries block the site during events they fear might generate new videos critical of the government, such as elections or political anniversaries. In cases where the entire site has been banned due to one particular video, YouTube has often agreed to remove that video in order to restore service.

Here are a few examples seen on the map:

  • China: authorities have temporarily blocked YouTube in response to videos addressing the massacre at Tiananmen Square, the Communist Party Congress, and demonstrations in Tibet, among others.
  • Turkey: authorities blocked YouTube in 2007 in response to several videos that insulted Mustafa Ataturk and ‘Turkishness.’ Similar content led the government to ban YouTube permanently in January of 2009.
  • Brazil: supermodel Daniela Cicarelli sued YouTube over a video showing her having sex with her boyfriend on a public beach. A court ruling caused the government to block YouTube access in Brazil until the video was removed from the site.
  • Indonesia and Uzbekistan: both governments asked ISPs to block YouTube in response to "Fitna," a video that interspersed images of terrorist attacks with quotes from the Quran. The video ignited protests and social unrest in many largely Muslim countries.
  • Tunisia: YouTube has been blocked in Tunisia since November 2007. Social media experts believe the ban is a response to videos that mock the president.

What caused that flash of darkness?

For two hours on February 22, 2008, Pakistan inadvertently blocked YouTube for the entire world when it encountered a technical glitch while attempting to block YouTube on its national network because of a video that mocked the Prophet Muhammad. For more information on the methods and possible technical consequences of Internet censorship, please see our About Filtering section.

Institutional filtering of YouTube

Businesses, schools, government agencies, and other private institutions often block social media sites, including YouTube, due to bandwidth limitations and the site’s inevitable potential for distraction. The US Department of Defense has blocked YouTube (as well as MySpace and other large social networking sites) on its worldwide network, citing not only bandwidth limitations, but also operational risks as a justification for this restriction.

Herdict: Help us keep our map up to date!

Has YouTube been blocked in your country? Report it to Herdict, where users around the world can report site blockage to create a global map of Internet censorship. You can submit a report via the Herdict reporter or using Twitter or e-mail.