With over 1 billion unique visitors each month, the Google owned video-sharing website YouTube is the third most visited website in the world. It is also, for a number of reasons, one of the most blocked (or partially blocked) websites on the internet.
This issue of YouTube censorship is a complex one, as there are a variety of reasons for the censorship, plus a range of approaches to implementing it. These range from long term blanket blocking of all YouTube content, to short term bans on specific videos. Reasons for blocking YouTube include:
- To stop criticism of a government or religion; or individual members (usually leaders) of a government for religion
- To try and prevent a population from being exposed to ideas that it’s feared may cause political or social unrest
- To prevent national laws being violated (including copyright laws, national security laws, and laws regarding ethics, morality, hate speech, and so forth)
- Legal restrictions regarding copyright infringement and protection of intellectual property
- To restrict age-appropriate material
- To prevent it distracting people from their work in an office or school/college environment
- Because it hogs bandwidth
YouTube is currently (April 2013) subject to blanket bans in China, Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Turkmenistan and, thanks to a dispute between Google and GEMA (Germany’s state organised collecting society and performing rights organisation) is largely blocked in Germany (where an estimated 61.5% of the 1000 most watched videos are blocked).
Google complicity in politically motivated censorship
There are few countries where Google has not complied with politically motivated take-down requests from national governments (although most take down requests involve copyright infringement, personal defamation, and hate speech). The USA and UK have a particularly bad record for making politically motivated requests, which in the vast majority of cases Google accedes to, removing not only YouTube videos but also specific search terms, and providing information in response to ‘data requests’ that could be used to identify individual YouTube posters. According to PC World:
‘Between July 1 and Dec. 31 , Google received 3,580 requests for user data from U.S. government agencies, slightly less than the 3,663 originating from Brazil. The United Kingdom and India sent more than 1,000 requests each, and smaller numbers originated from various other countries.’
Google believes that by providing transparency in the form of detailed reports on these take down requests, it is adhering to the principles of free speech. A breakdown of these requests, listed by country can be found here.
Countries where YouTube is completely blocked
Since 2009 Google has had a very strained relationship with the Chinese government, following a spat that broke out between them involving accusations of Chinese government complicity in cyber-attacks on Google, YouTube videos showing police beating protesters during riots in Tibet, and Google’s refusal to censor its content in line with Chinese government demands. The net result was a blanket ban on all Google services, including YouTube.
Some Google services do now (April 2013) appear to work in a somewhat haphazard fashion in mainland China, and Google has dropped its policy of warning users when they use search terms that might get them into trouble with the Chinese authorities, which has been criticized as form of self-censorship. YouTube however remains firmly banned (although this ban is widely evaded through the use of proxy servers and VPN).
YouTube has been banned in Iran since 2009 due to videos being posted which showed mass protests against the presidential election results, which gave incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a highly disputed 62% majority.
How ineffective this ban was, is shown by the Iranian government’s closure of all Google services in September 2012 in response to outrage over the amateurish (and highly offensive) release of Innocence of Muslims on YouTube. The ban on Gmail was lifted a few days later, and the Iranian government was forced to admit that was unable to distinguish between traffic originating from Gmail and YouTube (as both use secure shttp:// connections). YouTube remains illegal however, and those found accessing it may face stiff disciplinary measures.
Interestingly, in December 2012 the Iranian government launched Mehr.ir, a YouTube rip-off which it claims is designed to promote Iranian culture and cultural values, and attract Persian speakers. It is however a rather transparent attempt at offering a state sanctioned (and monitored) alternative to YouTube.
Pakistan banned YouTube following Google’s refusal to remove Innocence of Muslims in September 2012, and has stated that it is determined to continue to do so until either the offending video is removed, or they have found a means of filtering it.
Despite growing pressure from the country’s estimated 25 million internet users, who are showing unease at such blanket censorship on the basis of one video, the ban remains in place.
Along with Facebook, YouTube was banned by the Syrian Government in 2007, and placed behind a national firewall. For a brief time before the uprising began in April 2011 the government removed the ban in an effort to placate the opposition, but once hostilities began it banned was again. As the bloody civil war continues to rage, the situation on the ground remains very murky, although it is understood that all web and mobile access is currently unavailable.
Generally considered the world’s third worse county for media freedoms (after North Korea and Eritrea), it is estimated that only around 70 thousand of Turkmenistan’s 5 million citizens have access to the internet. In December 2009 its sole ISP blocked YouTube for unknown reasons, and it has remained blocked ever since.
Other countries that have instituted short term total bans on YouTube include Afghanistan, Armenia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Indonesia, Libya, Morocco, Russia, Syria, Sudan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey & the UAE.
YouTube blocked at work or college
It is common for educational establishments and business to block access to social networking websites, including YouTube, usually on the grounds that they are detrimental to productivity. Many people however resent this censorship and, at least during break-times, feel they should be free to do as they please. The suggested VPN providers that follow have been picked based on their accessibility by users in counties where YouTube is banned, but VPN is also perfect for bypassing work and college firewalls. If this is your interest, then you can find much better general purpose providers in our list of 5 Best VPNs.
Other reasons for using VPN to access YouTube
In addition to avoiding blanket national bans, targeted political censorship, and college or workplace firewalls, there are additional reasons for wanting to access YouTube via VPN:
- As noted earlier, the on-going copyright dispute in Germany means that a great deal of content is unavailable in that country. Users in Germany wanting to access the full range of YouTube videos should also look at our list of 5 Best VPNs
- Some YouTube content is geo-restricted. A good example of this is the 4oD Channel on YouTube, which only allows UK residents to view its contents. To access geo-restricted content you should pick a VPN provider with servers in the country you want to unlock. For 4oD (and other UK only channels), check out our article on 5 Best VPNs for 4oD.
- Our Score
- Visit Site
5 Best VPNs for YouTube (in counties where YouTube is banned)
The list below then, assumes that you want to access to YouTube from a country where it is banned. It therefore concentrates of VPN providers who have a sizeable international presence a global reach. Unfortunately the best VPN providers that we have reviewed (so far) concentrate on providing services to US and European customers. The good news is that if you are accessing the internet from a restrictive country, then most of the criticisms we have levelled at the company’s below are unlikely to be of much concern to you (as you are unlikely to be threatened with legal proceedings for copyright infringement and the like).
- Servers located in 42 countries including East Asia
- The Middle East
- Central and South America
- Good VPN client
- Great network speeds
- Claims to keep no logs undermined by its actions
IPVanish is a good choice as it has servers in 42 countries across the world, so finding a server in a country close-by should be easy, and will help reduce buffering issues caused by distance. In fact, IPVanish had some great speedtest.net results, which when combined with highly secure 256-bit encryption makes it ideal for watching YouTube and performing other internet activities that certain governments would prefer its citizens not to.
Click the button below to sign up to IPVanish now, you really can’t go wrong with them!
Hide My Ass
- Servers in 53 countries (including East Asia, Panama, South America and Morocco)
- Great VPN client makes changing servers very easy
- Lots of other freebies on-site to help maintain anonymity on the internet
- Keeps logs and has a history of collaboration with the authorities
- A bit pricey
- Servers in 78 countries including Central America, East Asia and North Africa
- Good VPN client
- 30 day money back guarantee
- Bit pricey
Another VPN company with a big international footprint, ExpressVPN has servers in 78 countries. A US based company, ExpressVPN keeps logs, which we normally don’t like but don’t think it a point relevant to this category (as noted above).
- Servers in 18 countries
- US company who keeps logs
- Quite pricey
Like ExpressVPN, StrongVPN is a US provider who keeps logs. More importantly regarding this discussion, it provides a very polished, if somewhat pricey service (we strongly against choosing the cheaper PPTP plan on the grounds that PPTP is highly insecure), with servers in 18 countries.
- Servers in East Asia
- May keep no logs
- Only useful for East Asia users
- May keep logs
- Most plans only include access to servers in 1 country
This Indian VPN provider is well positioned to unblock YouTube in the Far East as it has servers in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. It also offers re-assuring (if somewhat unnecessary levels) of security in the form 2048-bit OpenVPN and SSTP encryption. A big downside is that unless you opt for its most expensive price plan, SwitchVPN does not let you change server locations without paying for a new, separate plan.
If you live in (or are visiting) a restrictive county and want to access YouTube (or perform any other internet activity prohibited by your government), then we strongly urge the use of international VPN providers as evidence from both China and Iran show that internal ones cannot be trusted. Users in other countries should look for a VPN provider that keeps no logs and maintains servers close-by (although it is still often advisable to use servers located in a different country).
And here’s the summary once more: