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Web filters and Alternative Spirituality: The Selective Censorship of 'Alternative Beliefs'

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"Sites that provide information about or promote Buddhism, Bahai, Christianity, Christian Science, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, Shinto, and Sikhism, as well as atheism."

Blue Coat is another major web filter that blocks "alternative spirituality/belief". According to the datasheet (pdf) on its website this category comprises:

"Sites that promote and provide information on alternative spiritual and non-religious beliefs such as atheism, agnosticism, witchcraft, and Satanism. Occult practices, voodoo rituals or any other form of mysticism are represented here. This includes sites that endorse or offer methods, means of instruction, or other resources to affect or influence real events through the use of spells, incantations, curses and magic powers. The category includes sites that discuss or deal with paranormal or unexplained events."

Contrast the above with the neutral language they use to describe conventional religion:

"Sites that promote and provide information on traditional, organized religious belief, practice and observance and directly-related subjects such as religious catechism or dogma and places of religious worship or observance (e.g., churches, synagogues, temples, etc.). This category does not include sites about non-traditional spiritual and non-religious belief systems (Alternative Spirituality/Belief)."

Another major web filtering company is the New Zealand-based company Watchdog (formerly known as Familynet) which operates as Watchdog International worldwide with the slogan "get the worst out of the internet". The Watchdog categories include:

"Alternative journals

Sites for non-mainstream periodicals, information on self-awareness, spirituality, healing arts, holistic living, junk culture, fringe media, art perspectives, etc.

Cults/gothic

Sites promoting cult or gothic subject matter, use of mind control, paranoia, fear, and any other type of psychological control or manipulation."

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Rather than servicing households, Watchdog International provides filtering services to ISPs, businesses, governments, mobile operators, education institutions and non-government organisations, who in turn filter the networks they provide. If you take the description text for their "Cults/gothic" category and drop it into Google, you will find that a vast array of organisations are using their filtering criteria, including schools and ISPs in the USA.

What all the above filters have in common is their use of loaded language to describe "alternative spirituality". While being broad enough to capture just about any belief that doesn't fit into an establishment religion, notice how these descriptions are loaded with words that have negative connotations, like "cultic" "satanic" "satanism" "occult" "voodoo rituals" "mind control" "paranoia" "fear" and so forth.

These categories all seem to conflate alternative spirituality with dark and sinister things. When you compare the distorted tone of these descriptions to the language used to describe conventional religious beliefs, the difference is striking.

Isn't this a form a prejudice? If so, what is the reason? Are filter providers consciously encouraging bigotry towards alternative spirituality and beliefs, or are such descriptions just a passive reflection of stereotypical fears and prejudices toward alternative spirituality that already exist in society, which the filter providers are seeking to cater to?

What "alternative beliefs" are blocked?

To their credit, both Fortiguard and Blue Coat provide a portal where you can enter any URL and check how they classify a website, which does provide a degree of transparency. You can check how Fortiguard classifies a website by entering its URL in the search box on the right side of this page, while Blue Coat provides a similar function here.

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And guess what? Both Fortiguard and Blue Coat have consciousreporter.com in their sights. Fortiguard has the site down under "Alternative Belief", and Blue Coat has it under "Alternative Spirituality/Belief". Anyone using a connection where these filters are set to block these categories will not be able to read this article.

Here are some examples of websites blocked by one or both of these filters under these categories:

  • alchemywebsite.com (Blue Coat, Fortiguard)
  • astrology.about.com (Blue Coat)
  • ancientsacredknowledge.com (Blue Coat)
  • belsebuub.com (Blue coat)
  • consciousreporter.com (Blue Coat, Fortiguard)
  • davidicke.com (Blue Coat)
  • deepspirits.com (Blue Coat)
  • esotericonline.net (Blue Coat, Fortiguard)
  • esotericscience.org (Blue Coat)
  • falundafa.org (Blue Coat)
  • faluninfo.net (Blue Coat, Fortiguard)
  • fofg.org [friends of falun gong] (Blue Coat, Fortiguard)
  • newagejournal.com (Blue Coat, Fortiguard)
  • new-age-spirituality.com (Blue Coat)
  • paganfederation.org (Blue Coat, Fortiguard)
  • pagannews.com (Blue Coat, Fortiguard)
  • paganpride.org(Blue Coat, Fortiguard)
  • paganwiccan.about.com (Fortiguard)
  • paranormalnews.com (Blue Coat, Fortiguard)
  • theepochtimes.com (Bluecoat)
  • thewhitegoddess.co.uk (Blue Coat, Fortiguard)
  • wicca.com (Fortiguard)
  • witchesandpagans.com (Blue Coat, Fortiguard)
  • ufocasebook.com (Blue Coat)

I haven't done an exhaustive search of sites, but after checking some URLs it doesn't take long to see that a diverse mix of views are slotted into these "alternative belief" categories. Pagan and Wiccan sites fare particularly badly, new age sites are also in the mix, and it seems you don't have to go to China to have Falun Gong websites blocked either.

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Matthew is a freelance writer with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, an open mind and a keen interest in defending personal freedom and uncovering the truth. He writes at The Conscious Reporter about issues that affect and suppress human (more...)
 

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