Countries Move to Block Protests by Blocking Facebook, Twitter

Iraq Government Pulls Plug on Social Networks, Citizens use Hola VPN to Fight Back

Released by Ofer Vilenski, hola.org

On Friday, May 27, 2016, the government of Iraq blocked access to Facebook and Twitter. According to free independent newspaper Aliraqnet, the blockade was put in place to prevent citizens from organizing anti-corruption demonstrations. To regain access to a free web, over 100,000 citizens have since turned to Hola, a wildly popular VPN service.

The Iraqi government claimed that the aim of the blockade was to prevent ISIS from learning where the rallies would be, so they could not be targeted for terrorist attacks. While this may be a valid reason, often restriction of web access for seemingly citizen-centric reasons have led to censorship of the citizens’ basic rights.

In the hours following the social media blockade, Hola experienced a massive surge in downloads of its app.

“Access to information should be a basic human right, and yet governments continue to restrict their citizens’ Web access,” said Ofer Vilenski, CEO and co-founder of Hola. “Hola’s P2P technology lets people help people to remove barriers and makes the web worldwide again.”

The main reason masses of Iraqis turned to Hola is that unlike other VPN providers, Hola’s peer-to-peer (P2P) proxy technology makes the service free for noncommercial use.

While most VPN providers rely on expensive servers, Hola’s P2P nature does not, so there is no underlying cost of service. This is even more important in countries where the average family income would not allow the common citizen to use a VPN.  Hola’s users surf the internet anonymously by securely routing through other users’ computers when these are not in use.

Since its launch in 2013, Hola’s service has been used by more than 82 million people worldwide.

Earlier in May 2016, Facebook users located in Vietnam used Hola to access the social network, which had been blocked by the government to prevent citizens from rallying and demonstrating against it.

Vietnam Facebook Access Blocked

The government of Vietnam allegedly shut Facebook down on May 15, 2016, and 200,000+ citizens have turned to Hola, a popular VPN service, to fight the censorship and access the website.

The decision to block Facebook, as well as photo-sharing app Instagram, came as dissidents tried to rally for the third successive Sunday to protest for an environmental disaster they claim was caused by the Vietnamese government and Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics. The disaster is said to have killed a large number of fish in April 2016.

Though security forces have been preventing protesters from gathering in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, many citizens have been using Facebook to exchange information and organize rallies, thus the government is presumed to have shut the website down.

Israeli proxy service Hola experienced a massive surge of downloads of the popular app and browser extension in Vietnam in the hours following the Facebook blockade.

“As the Internet becomes the mainstream method of exchanging information between people, more and more governments, service providers and corporations are closing down on the Internet citizens’ freedom of information. Hola’s P2P technology removes these barriers and makes the Web worldwide again,” said a spokesperson from Hola.

While some Vietnamese may have chosen to communicate through other social media channels, many of them preferred to rely on a VPN service to continue using Facebook. Most VPNs cost between five to ten dollars a month. In a country as Vietnam, where the average monthly wage is around $150, a VPN approaches 1% of monthly family income, a disproportionate amount of money to spend on such service. VPNs are so expensive because they need to pay for the costly servers through which their users’ traffic pass, and they ought to make a profit from it, as well.

The reason why hundreds of thousands turned to Hola is that the service is free of charge due to its peer-to-peer (P2P) technology which does not rely on any server, so there is no underlying cost of service. Its users surf the internet anonymously by securely routing through other users’ computers when these are not in use. Hola is free for non-commercial use only; the company profits from Luminati, the same proxy service offered to businesses for commercial use. This enables Hola to provide the non-commercial service free of charge.

Since its launch in 2013, the service has been used by 80 million people in multiple countries to democratize the web. Earlier in May, for instance, WhatsApp users located in Brazil installed Hola to access the messaging app, which had been blocked by the government due to a court ruling.

For additional information visit hola.org.

Ed. Note: No elaboration on the Brazil access blocking is included in this article.

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About Kay Whatley 2136 Articles
Kay Whatley serves as Editor and Reporter with The Grey Area News. Kay is a published author with over 20 years of experience in the publishing industry. Kay Whatley is wife to Frank Whatley, founder of The Grey Area™ newspaper and The Grey Area News online news website.