If you thought that North Korea, Iran, and Cuba were the only countries in the world with weird Internet cultures, think again.

I say weird, because they have strange guidelines, infrastructure, or worse, leaders with paranoiac tendencies.You might be surprised to know that in some countries we consider “backward” when it comes to technology, the case is not actually so.

For example, North Korea is one country everybody thinks of when the word “isolated” is mentioned. But while most of us think that North Koreans have no idea what the Internet is all about, that might not necessarily be true. In fact, the late great leader of the country, Kim Jong-il, was said to be an avid web surfer. Internet links from China have made it possible for the country’s top brass to enjoy the modern benefits of the World Wide Web. But yes, if you happen to smuggle an electronic gadget into North Korea (an almost impossible task), you might be met with questioning looks from the ordinary folks you try to sell your tablet PC to.Very ironic, considering just across the border is one of the most “connected” countries in the world, South Korea.

Besides the earlier mentioned countries, a fourth member of the Weird Internet Rules Club is China. Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’d know that the most populous country in the world has gone capitalist and has quite a number of billionaires in its citizenry. Top mobile device manufacturers (Apple, anyone?) have launched frantic attempts to get even just a pinch of the vast Chinese market. Even if you wander away from the country’s major cities of Beijing and Shanghai, people are still well-versed about what gadgets suck and which ones are hot.

As for the Internet, more than half (52.3%) of the country’s population is projected to have web access by 2013. Bearing in mind the country’s population of more than a billion, that’s more than 700 million connected people – more than twice the US population! No wonder websites, like tech manufacturers, have also been aggressive in setting foot in China. But alas, not everyone is so fortunate.

Popularly known as “The Great Firewall,” Internet censorship in China is reputed to be the most extensive and advanced in the world. Thus, while Internet use is prevalent in the country, Internet behavior and etiquette among people in China is different from those living anywhere else.The bottom line is, a good number of websites available for web surfers in other countries are not available for those in China.

But why? Here are a couple of reasons:

  • Websites that incite harming the reputation of the country, its government, and the socialist system are blocked.
  • Websites that promote feudal superstitions, criminal activity, violence, murder, gambling, terrorism, and sexual aggression are blocked.

Pretty tame, eh? But look closer. With these two points, the most common targets of the Chinese government’s restrictive censorship policies are:

  • Websites that contain targeted content, with focus on subjects like the Falun Gong (a religious cult), the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests (a historical political event), and independence movements in Taiwan. Foreign media websites, particularly Japanese and American, are blocked from time to time. Even pages of online encyclopedias (e.g., Wikipedia) concerning the topics mentioned earlier are blocked.
  • Search engines that lead surfers to websites with information that may lead to political instability are also blocked periodically. Yahoo.cn and even the local Baidu search engine have fallen victim to this. When the 18th Chinese Communist Party Congress got underway on November 9, Google China was reported inaccessible. This may be attributed to the party’s intolerance to anything that could lead users to information leading to possible destabilization.
  • Discussion forums of any topic are usually monitored, and hosting online discussions of a political nature is automatically grounds for blocking.
  • Social media websites, especially those hosted outside China, are blocked. Thus, people in China do not have access to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, among others. Content sharing platforms like online cloud drives (Google Drive) and blog platforms (WordPress and Blogger) are banned as well.

Crafty Chinese Netizens have used certain methods to access these sites, including web-based proxies and virtual private networks. Although these fixes have been tested, proven, and are widely used inside the country, the fact still remains that the Chinese government has not shown signs of weakening its resolve to block anything online that threatens its stability.

As long as this continues, many websites will undoubtedly continue to be inaccessible in China. For us with almost unlimited online freedoms, these restrictions feel oppressive, as they stifle the Chinese people’s rights. But the Chinese government does have its reasons, as they are trying to “manage” the Internet habits of close to a billion people. What about you, what do you think?