Picture the scene. You’re at work or school, and in your downtime, you want to peruse a website. Maybe you want to check your social media feeds or need to watch YouTube for research purposes… but it’s blocked.
You could turn to a proxy service or try a VPN — except the former are often blocked too, and the latter requires a bit more effort than you might like if you are just trying to sneak a glance at a censored site now and again.
Fortunately, you still have options.
1. Try the Short Link Versions
This is a hugely popular method because it works in most cases. However, that also means administrators are getting wise to it. Still, it should definitely be your first port of call.
Shortened URLs became prominent due to Twitter: back when addresses counted towards the character limit, using short links was a way of condensing a tweet. It’s incredibly easy to do. You just copy a URL into a service like Bitly, TinyURL, or goo.gl and it’ll give you something like
Insert it into the address bar, and you should be redirected to where you want to go, bypassing any blocks that might be in place — fingers crossed.
2. Try HTTPS
Though it acts against the very purpose it exists, the HTTPS often goes unnoticed in a URL. The “s” means it’s a secure connection, verified using SSL certificates. It results in that padlock appearing in the address bar, and means peace of mind when visiting sites that require any sensitive information. Think Amazon, PayPal, or, these days, Facebook.
Aside from being a great security measure, it also comes in handy when trying to access blocked sites. This is because quite a few schools block the more common port 80, which is the endpoint for HTTP traffic — leaving the secure connection, port 443, open for exploitation.
I just leveled up! https
— Wasif Khan (@wasifkhan869912) February 16, 2017
It’s not always going to work, but it’s certainly worth a try! Some sites, including Facebook, YouTube, and email providers, automatically redirect to the HTTPS option, so in turn remove the extra effort on your part, or have reminded administrators to block the port.
3. Translation Services
You’re probably pretty familiar with services like Google Translate or Microsoft Translator: their standard offering is changing one language into another, so you can convert any sentence from English to Japanese, Urdu, Gaelic, et al. and back again. In school, you could’ve used it to find out what your French teacher meant when she said “merde” under her breath.
It also translates whole websites… whether you actually need them translating or not. And that’s why it’s helpful here too.
— Tiffanie Whipple (@TiffanieWhipple) February 18, 2017
Whatever the site, simply type the URL into the text box and click on the link in the translation output. You’ll be redirected to it, but chances are that the blocks used otherwise will miss the page as it’ll appear under a different address, namely something like
translate.google.com, followed by various seemingly-random digits.
It’s not perfect. It’ll struggle with video streaming and social media sites, for example, and responsive pages won’t be as smooth as they’re intended to be. Just check out the warped elements on the usually-beautiful MakeUseOf homepage.
Still, if it’s an article you need to read for research reasons, it’s ideal.
Similarly, you could search for the page you want to read then click on its cached version, which, again, should show up under a different URL that won’t be blocked. Simple. Effective.
4. Convert to PDF
You’ll generally need to sign up for this one; however, it’s worth it, not just for reading censored pages but also creating content that’s easy to share and a pleasure to read.
There are plenty of services available online which’ll convert websites into PDFs: you just have to choose whether you want to pay for it or not. Take Five Filters’ PDF Newspaper for instance, a free PHP app which transforms articles into, effectively, a personal publication. You can read output from all your favorite sites in printable A4 or A5 sheets that are more aesthetically pleasing than RSS feeds.
I use it to keep physical copies of online articles I’m particularly proud of, filed away in a portfolio. You could use it to bypass blocks because Five Filters does the work of scouring a webpage for you.
It goes without saying that it’s useless for YouTube and Twitter, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Of course, you’ll need to know the exact addresses for articles, as you can’t peruse a site.
5. Tether to Your Phone
You want to view a blocked site. You’re clearly a rebel who doesn’t play by anyone’s rules but your own. In which case, you won’t have any grievances with using your phone when you possibly shouldn’t.
The idea here is that you use the internet via tethering your smartphone, so yes, you’ll need a quality data plan to do this. It’s not worth it if you just want to read something from a censored site, but if you want to watch YouTube and nothing else is working, this should work… though it’s likely to be slow.
Go to Settings. From there, the method will vary slightly depending on your operating system. On iOS, just turn on Personal Hotspot and note the password. It’ll give you the option of connecting through Wi-Fi, USB (if you were really prepared!), or Bluetooth. From there, just follow the instructions in that section. On Android, in Wireless & Networks, tap More > Tethering & portable hotspot > Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot > Set up Wi-Fi Hotspot and make note of the password.
This should really only be in emergencies, however, as you risk substantial bills if you go over your data usage limits. And be aware that your organization’s IT department might have blocked connection to new Wi-Fi networks.
Bypass the Blocks?
Not everyone has the know-how to effectively use VPNs or proxy sites, but using these techniques, you should be more than capable of bypassing any blocks you encounter without jumping through too many hoops.
How else do you get around censors? Do you just rely on VPNs or do you prefer easier alternatives?
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