Web filters and Alternative Spirituality: The Selective Censorship of ‘Alternative Beliefs’

Commercial web filters are often rigged to selectively target alternative spirituality and beliefs. Sites like this one can be classified, segregated and blocked under an “alternative spirituality/belief” category, which is often described negatively. The widespread use of filters to block alternative beliefs on public networks, while allowing access to traditional/mainstream beliefs, raises issues of censorship, discrimination and prejudice.

There are various web filters available that can be customised to block just about anything. They are sold to households as “parental controls” and allow carers to block content they don’t want children to see. Organisations use them to prevent staff from visiting sites deemed inappropriate or a distraction from work. And they are installed on public internet networks, such as in libraries, cafes, schools, to make the internet “family friendly”.

Sometimes internet service providers (ISPs) have filters directly over their network which customers can opt-in to, while in some countries ISP filters are mandatory for Government censorship. But in Western countries, filters are usually an extra product or service an individual household, organisation, school or library chooses to put on their internet connection independently.

Typically filters use automated algorithms to classify sites into categories based on their content. But no filter is foolproof and they inevitably allow access to sites they are meant to block, while over-blocking some sites by mistake. They may compensate for this by allowing users to report wrongly-blocked sites and suggest how sites should be classified and blocked.

When you consider the range of content on the internet, it’s easy to understand the appeal of filters if you have children or underage users to cater for. Despite their flaws, their broad appeal is that they provide some control over the content on a family’s or organisation’s internet connection. Provided filters are not controlled by the government and used to suppress dissent, as happens in authoritarian countries, or forced onto the public under a false pretext and operated without transparency, as has happened in UK, then there is nothing wrong with individuals or organisations choosing to put filters over their own connections, is there?

In principle, no, but in practice, apart from over-blocking, filters can have serious issues of bias built into the way they choose to classify and describe certain content. This is apparent in their often prejudicial treatment of “alternative spirituality/belief.” I believe that the way filters separate alternative spirituality and beliefs from mainstream/traditional religions and beliefs is a form of cyber-segregation. I doubt such segregation would be tolerated if filters separated and blocked websites based on racial content or origin. And when filters are used to selectively block alternative spirituality in public places like libraries, it can even be illegal discrimination.

Filters and the cyber-segregation of spirituality

Most filters are customisable, which means that just because a content category can be blocked, it doesn’t mean you have to. And because filters cater to a wide audience, it’s not surprising that they can give you the option of blocking just about anything.

shutterstock_76996738But not every category is treated equally. Filters can have prejudice built into the way they label and describe a category. This is the case when it comes to “alternative beliefs” or “alternative spirituality/belief”, which are common categories used by web filter providers, while “religion” is usually a separate category for dominant mainstream beliefs.

Classifying “alternative beliefs” separately from traditional or conventional religious beliefs gives the impression that conventional beliefs are “normal” and “socially acceptable” while alternative spiritual viewpoints and beliefs are not. But some filters go further and describe the alternative belief category using loaded language that makes such material sound sinister or risqué, or they lump it into a broader “adult content” category alongside things like drugs, pornography and gambling. This seems to encourage guilt by association, and makes it appear there is something illicit or wrong about having “alternative beliefs” as opposed to the “respectable” conventional beliefs of mainstream religions, which, in contrast, are usually described in neutral matter-of-fact language.

In other words, filters do not treat all beliefs equally; they often give mainstream dominant beliefs preferential treatment while portraying alternative beliefs negatively.

What this may mean in practice is that when parents, a school or a library etc. install and set up a filter, they are pre-positioned to view “alternative beliefs” in a negative light by the filter itself. This may feed into and encourage people’s own prejudices, or, if they simply don’t know any better, it might encourage them to block this classification on precaution (especially when alternative beliefs are labelled “adult”) while giving sanctioned traditional beliefs preferential treatment.

Common web filters that block alternative beliefs

shutterstock_56053303There are many web filters on the market: two major ones are Fortiguard and Blue Coat. Both of these companies are major providers which service not only households but schools and enterprises.

Fortiguard groups the content it can block into 6 main categories. One of these is “Adult/Mature Content” which includes the subcategory “Alternative Belief” alongside pornography, gambling, weapons and marijuana and other such topics. Traditional beliefs are conspicuously absent from “Adult/Mature Content”, instead being classed under the subcategory “Global Religion” in the more benign-sounding “General Interest – Personal” umbrella category. The “Alternative Belief” classification is described as applying to:

“Websites that provide information about or promote religions not specified in Traditional Religions or other unconventional, cultic, or folkloric beliefs and practices. Sites that promote or offer methods, means of instruction, or other resources to affect or influence real events through the use of spells, curses, magic powers, satanic or supernatural beings.”

Conventional religions/beliefs get a far more prosaic description:

“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.


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

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.

shutterstock_164095775And guess what? Both Fortiguard and Blue Coat have this site, consciousreporter.com in their sights. Fortiguard has this 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.

Of course, if people choose to install filters over their own private connection to block what they personally don’t want to see, then that’s their business. But serious issues arise when these filters are installed over entire networks by ISPs, schools, libraries or public WiFi providers, and block out alternative beliefs in public places in a discriminatory way.

Web filters as tools of discrimination


Filters on UK public WIFI block almost half of religious sites.

In the UK we have seen alternative spirituality and beliefs blocked on mobile internet, and it’s been found that public WiFi blocks almost half of religious sites. Indeed, the overzealous government-backed filtering regime in the UK appears to be out of control, and was recently found to block almost one fifth of the top 100,000 sites on the web.

But when it comes to the cyber-segregation of spirituality using filters, service providers are not the only culprits.

When a public school or library set up a filter to selectively block alternative beliefs, while permitting access to traditional beliefs, they can be liable for discrimination. Although anti-discrimination laws vary from one place to another, public institutions are generally not supposed to dictate which beliefs are acceptable or not, or treat certain beliefs more favourably than others, or interfere with an individual’s right to access material related to their own personal beliefs or spiritual interests.

Such discrimination may also violate human rights. For example, article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights gives everyone the right to “freedom of thought, conscience and religion” in “public or private” and forbids any “coercion” which would impair this freedom.

In the USA, discriminatory filtering of alternative beliefs in public libraries has been found to be in direct breach of the First Amendment.

Salem witch hunt 2.0

A legal precedent has been set on this front in the US.

The Salem Public Library in Missouri was caught carrying out a virtual witch-hunt on its internet services by blocking so-called “occult” beliefs. The library was using the Netsweeper filter provided through MOREnet. Netsweeper – according to a whitepaper it released in 2010 – classified the subcategory “Occult” in the “Adult” category alongside things like “Criminal Skills”, “Extreme”, “Gambling”, “Hate Speech”, “Pornography”, “Profanity”, “Substance Abuse” and “Weapons”, which seems to encourage guilt by association.

Netsweeper defined occult material as:

“… sites involving the study of secret or hidden knowledge and includes any URLs about cults, supernatural forces and events, occult lore, vampires, astrology, witchcraft, mysterious symbols, and other phenomena beyond ordinary understanding. It also includes information and instructions on astrology, spells, curses, magic powers, satanic or supernatural beings.”

Notice the loaded language.

The Salem library using this filter ran into trouble when a resident researching websites about Native American religions and the Wiccan faith found that these minority faiths were categorised and blocked as “occult” or “criminal”. After she complained to the library, full access was still withheld.

So she went to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) who took the library to court and won. The Judge ruled in March 2013 that blocking material solely on viewpoint was unconstitutional.

Discrimination toward alternative spirituality in Public Schools


Web filters are used to selectively block alternative beliefs on internet networks in public schools

Discrimination against alternative spiritual beliefs can also be an issue in public schools. In 2005 students at Pine View public school in Florida made complaints about how their school filter blocked non-mainstream religions and so-called “cults” yet allowed access to major religions.

In Australia, the state of Queensland currently filters the internet in public schools, using the Blue Coat filter mentioned previously. The Queensland government displays the filter settings they use online, which reveals they set the filter to block “Alternative Spirituality/Belief” while allowing access to “Religion” for students.

In the USA, the ACLU has had success stopping public schools from using filters in a discriminatory way. The Clark County School District agreed to stop filtering “Alternative Spirituality/Belief” after the ACLU complained.

The ACLU reported in a press release:

“Although the First Amendment does not require the school district to provide students with Internet access, once a school district does so, it may not selectively censor access to websites based on particular viewpoints,” said Staci Pratt, Legal Director for the ACLU of Nevada.

…The “Alternative Spirituality/Belief” filter prevented student access to educational and age-appropriate websites covering a “wide range of non-traditional and/or non-religious spiritual, existential, experimental, and philosophical belief systems.” Notably, even though the School District blocked “Alternative Spirituality/Belief” related web sites, it continued to allow access to “Religion,” or websites representing mainstream and traditional religious views, as well as information on “churches, synagogues, or other houses of worship.”

What is behind this prejudice and discrimination?

Is this apparent discrimination toward alternative spirituality just an unconscious manifestation of social prejudice on the part of those creating or using these filters? Or might there be a deliberate strategy to marginalise alternative beliefs?

According to research carried out last decade, the selective targeting of alternative beliefs by filters may be deliberate in some cases. In 2002, Nancy Willard published the report ‘Filtering Software: The Religious Connection’ which looked at eight filtering providers in the US and found they all had links to conservative religious organisations. Many of the providers were also marketing their products to public schools.

Willard also looked at the categories used to target alternative beliefs and found schools were using the filters to block non-traditional religious sites, which she deemed unacceptable:

“It should be noted that the terms “occult,” “cult,” “new age,” “witchcraft,” and the like are terms that are frequently applied to any non-traditional religions. Virtually all “new age” religious topics are grounded in spiritual traditions and religious thought of various groups, including Native American and Asian religions. Therefore, blocking access to such material may raise issues related to race, as well as religion. To classify non-traditional religious sites in the same category as Satanism is unacceptable. If students are allowed to access Christian sites, which most people would argue they should be allowed to access, it is unacceptable for schools to block access to non-traditional religious sites.”

More than a decade later, it seems little has changed when it comes to using loaded language and selective categories to discriminately target alternative beliefs with web filters.


shutterstock_193724894When alternative beliefs are blocked on public internet networks, such as in public schools and libraries, who is responsible? Is it the organisation using the filter, or the private companies providing filters designed to enable religious-based discrimination?

Usually a public-funded institution like a school or library is under a legal obligation to provide its services in a non-discriminatory way, without favouring particular beliefs over others. They have a responsibility to operate any filters they use without violating the law or people’s rights.

It is not clear just how widespread the use of discriminatory filters has become on public internet networks, but it’s clearly not uncommon. If such places violate someone’s rights by censoring alternative spirituality, there are often clear avenues to complain, and legal precedents that have been set (such as ACLU vs the Salem Public Library). Some jurisdictions may also have specific anti-discrimination bodies you can go to for help.

When it comes to the companies providing these filters, I think they would probably argue that their filters are customisable, and they are not responsible for the settings third parties use.

But the companies providing these filters also bear some responsibility in my view. When you consider the negative way in which many filters segregate alternative spirituality and beliefs, and describe this category with language better suited to the Inquisition, I think it is reasonable to conclude that filters play a role in actually encouraging discrimination. This is reinforced further when alternative spirituality is lumped in with “adult” content. I doubt this approach would get very far if content was segregated in the same manner based on race.

Whether this inbuilt cyber-segregation of spirituality is part of a deliberate agenda by filter providers, or merely unconscious prejudice born from social stereotypes is difficult to say. But whatever the case, current filter setups both enable discrimination as well as actively encourage it when it comes to alternative spirituality. I think filter providers should lift their game and stop employing double standards in their treatment of alternative spirituality in comparison to mainstream and traditional religions.

As filters become more and more prevalent on public networks, perhaps the greatest danger of all is indifference. Filters provide silent suppression: people may not know what they are missing out on, and those with no interest in alternative spirituality may not even realise censorship is happening. But the good news is that filter settings can easily be changed. And laws and rights often do exist to deal with this discrimination – but only if those affected by it speak up.

If enough of us value alternative spirituality and the principles of freedom and fairness, then the silent suppression of alternative spirituality via web filters can be prevented.

About Matthew Butler

Matthew Butler 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's been exploring spirituality and consciousness for 10 years and writes at The Conscious Reporter about issues that affect and suppress human potential, consciousness, alternative beliefs, and the right to free expression of spirituality in the world.


  1. Unbelievable! Tried to access one of the sites listed in this article at my local library and it was denied as ‘potentially containing adult content’. It’s absurd.

  2. Great article. It definitely looks like these filters are gradually, but very consistently becoming a standard in public places. I think it is understandable if a public place wants to block certain categories like adult/violence, etc. But my impression is that the filters providers (and possibly some groups behind them) are the ones responsible for creating this atmosphere in which alternative beliefs are perceived as something dangerous that should be blocked and then naturally, they get blocked in many places. It would definitely be interesting to look further into what/who is behind this eagerness to filter out alternative spirituality, mysticism, and anything that does not fit into established religion.

  3. Very informative and insightful article. The war on spirituality becomes quite obvious after reading your article Matthew.

    I certainly don’t think that it is a coincidence that both censoring companies treat alternative spirituality in such an unfair way.

    It is sad though that it actually continues to happen because we, as ordinary people let it happen and do not react to this unfairness.

    This is so very important because it has to do with people having access to sources that could help them find the meaning of life. What else could have more value?

    The internet is such a vast source of information of all kinds and now the most essential is gradually becoming inaccessible.

    • I think you’re right Christos. It can’t just be a coincidence that so many companies use the same negative criteria to classify alternative spirituality.

      The question is, are they all in on some scheme, or are they just puppets? They might just be unconsciously acting according to a perception already planted in society and in people’s psyche by those with an agenda to portray alternative spirituality as a threat. Sort of like the way any ordinary person living during the inquisition might have thought “heretics” were are threat, becasue that was what they were taught to believe.

      The anti cult movement has done a pretty good job at vilifying alternative spirituality through mass media for many decades, since before the internet came along. But it’s also true that some people in the anti cult movement are involved in major religions, and some religions organisations do apparently have influence over some filtering companies according to the research I mentioned, so the influence could be more direct in some cases.

      Whatever the case, it is wrong that this is happening and we should do what what we can to expose and counter it.

      • It would be interesting if there would be someone blowing the whistle about the real agenda behind suppressing alternative beliefs.

        There have been whistle blowers that had the courage to inform people about mass surveillance, chemtrails, ET coverups and others and they had a huge impact on people’s conscience. These are the true heroes, if you ask me..

        I am sure articles like yours can have this influence to people because they put things into perspective.

  4. Hearing of this happening all over the place when people are trying to use public internet services (like at libraries, universities, car dealerships, cafes, etc.) and it’s really concerning. I’ve also seen it in other areas – for instance if you have a google adsense account (for displaying ads on your website), then you have the option to disable certain types of ads from displaying on your site — like if you don’t want ads about adult content, for example. There is specifically a section for “sensitive categories” that includes 12 categories, the first of which is “black magic, astrology & esoteric.” Another category is “religion”. Now it makes sense why someone may not want those types of ads displayed on their website (everyone’s entitled to their own beliefs and should have the freedom not to advertise things they don’t support on their website), but the wording is still strange, particularly the term “esoteric,” which seems to be on a track to being lumped in with darkness, violence, drugs, sexuality, and just in general something undesirable these days. I don’t recall noticing this term being used so much in filters in the past, and nowadays it seems to be on everyone’s hit list… Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but… something tells me it’s more than that.

    • oh Jenny, thanks for pointing this out! And I agree with you, the way the term Esoteric is being categorized is alarming…

      Layla brought many good points in her post below on this. And like it has been mentioned, we’re at a time that if when there is an opportunity in front of us to correct the wrong, we should grab it and make sure to fight back this tyranny. Not doing so would be wrong for our soul and that of humanity.

      Thanks again for pumping out this great information, and helping people realize what is happening, with knowledge, there is power.

    • Yes it does, and it seems its all about ‘category comprehension’, so that they define or redefine aspects of our society, the good the bad, and distort them, merely by placing something good with something bad.

      Secondly the use of black magic in this category is mostly likely not what it really is, but rely’s on people’s ideas of black magic (old witchcraft movies and books people grew up watching or reading about). Ironically the REAL EVIL is now incorporated into logos, symbols in fashion, into music, films, videos etc. This corporatisation of evil is how they can make people digest it through consumption, never suspecting it to be more than a tune, a brand, or an image, but nevertheless having powerful affects upon people’s psyche.

      It seems to me this is the stage where it needs to be really made known before people begin to adopt this false definitions and reject this type of distortation of the good and the bad. Thankfully this article is revealing this seemingly ‘altruistic’ but very manipulative changes to the way we understand and relate to spirituality and our own psyche.

    • I thought it was really interesting that in the examples in the article the wording seemed almost exactly the same across the filters in regards to how alternative spirituality was described. Are they borrowing from each other, or from some prescribed description somewhere?

  5. Thanks Matthew again for highlighting just another way that we are being control in a underlining way.

    Making it even more difficult for someone who is searching for something really spiritual, it makes you wonder of the agenda behind these decisions

  6. Thanks Matthew for highlighting this disastrous situation we are facing, and need to act upon. Just because this terrible precursor has started doesn’t mean we have to live with it.

    I really appreciate the importance of all the research on this site, I don’t think anyone can afford to shrug it off or ignore it, our whole wellbeing and that of our planet is walking on thin ice, melting quickly under our feet.

  7. How many of those sites you listed would even know they are being blocked? Not many I think. Many people still kid themselves thinking that the internet is free and open, only to find that they are being filtered, censored and access is being closed. This is the unfortunate situation that’s taking place right under our noses.

    Fortiguard interestingly makes a disclaimer on their web filtering info page http://www.fortiguard.com/static/webfiltering.html saying:
    “Descriptions of the categories above are designed to assist the reader with category comprehension only; they are not meant to depict any form of symbolic representation of the individuals who own or surf these sites.”

    So if we look at the what they are intending to do, which is ‘assist the reader with category comprehension’, we need to look at what this really means.
    Category, as defined by Oxford Dictionaries online, states: “A class or division of people or things regarded as having particular shared characteristics”
    Comprehension is defined as “The ability to understand something:”

    So really what they are assisting the reader with is to ‘understand’ that alternative beliefs has a shared characteristic to all the other content listed as Adult/mature content such as Gambling, Nudity and Risque, Pornography, Weapons (Sales) etc. Not only is this absurd, but its also inciting fearful and negative association and emotions of harmful behaviour with spirituality.

    To further distort the truth, they want to assist the reader to ‘understand’ that these beliefs, “Buddhism, Bahai, Christianity, Christian Science, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, Shinto, and Sikhism, as well as atheism” are all “Global Religions” and share the same characteristics of other content under “General Interest”, such as “Shopping and Auction, Society and Lifestyles, Sports, Travel” etc, so as to create an association with ‘normal’, ‘everyday’ social behaviours and consumerism.

    By wanting to “assist the reader with category comprehension’ what they are really saying is that they are laying out what they want people to psychologically, emotionally and ‘spiritually’ to fear and what they want them to adopt. This categorizing methodology is very dangerous and manipulative of the human psyche. No where do they state how or in what or why they have made such category assumptions or by what definition or authority, and yet since they supply these systems, their definitions will be widely known as being definitive of alternative belief and its place in society, after all, Foritguard states, “FortiGuard URL Database Categories are based upon the Web content viewing suitability of three major groups of customers: enterprises, schools, and home/families.” So weather your at home, school or work, this is what you will see or ‘not see’ as the case will be and come to ‘understand’.

    Furthermore, Fortiguard goes onto state, “The categories are defined to be easily manageable and patterned to industry standards.” So we will see this type of outcasting of alternative spirituality easily applied across the board, and industry is setting the standards, meaning corporations are now defining what religions/faiths/beliefs society should or should not adopt.

    I highly recommend people and sites who are being blocked by these corporations to write and make a complaint to these organisations and those that oversee consumer protection laws, since religious freedom should not be decided by corporations, it’s a right we all have and need to protect.

    • I think you’re right on Layla, regarding the push to encourage socially acceptable interests and behaviors revolving around being a good consumer.

      And since when is looking into alternative spiritual beliefs and practices considered ‘Adult’ content? That classification really stands out to me. If you ask your average person on the street what ‘Adult’ web content is likely to include, they’d probably come back with things like violence, sex, drugs, and other controversial topics unsuitable for minors–much like the rest of the topics Fortiguard has on their list. The classification of esoteric and alternative spirituality as content only suitable for adults is completely skewed and discriminatory when information about ‘traditional’ religions still remains available.

      There is definitely something going on to create this precedent and the categories of what is acceptable in people’s minds, so that they are discouraged from searching for anything that may run counter to the mainstream.

      • Yes, I know what you mean Dara. They’ve managed to pull people away from even basic and common spiritual principles into heavy consumerism lifestyle. ‘Reality’ shows of all kinds, be it music competitions, cooking, renovations etc, are defining what people should consume their life with and they specifically target and exaggerate lower emotions such as over excitement, jealousy, negativity, competitiveness, and so eroding good human qualities as they do it.

        I feel this drive to forever consume things, services, ways of life that are based on consumption, allow the corporations to drive social norms, behaviours and principles by which people live by into very low standards and low emotional ways of being.

        Once this is very well adopted by society through the great help of media, tv and advertising then it won’t be difficult for corporations to not only set the standards they want, that benefit them, but also creating laws, which we are seeing more so taking place these days.

        This may seem a bit far off the topic to some, but as they say evil works in increments, so the society we were 50 or 40 years ago, is definitely not so now, standards are really poor and as people drop their standard for what is commercially promoted as acceptable than its only a hop skip and jump from eroding spirituality – since people won’t see a need for it in their lives because consumerism, media and corporations are now directing social behaviour and deeming what’s acceptable and what’s not. So the case will be that society won’t mind losing alternative spiritual beliefs, since those beliefs will challenge the ability to consume in a world of false choices. Real freedom will be given up for consumer enslavement, the false freedom flag.

        Unfortunately people don’t see or want to see the incremental move away from spiritual and decent values, which I feel has a lot to do with the lack of self knowledge, that as individuals we suffer from. But those behind the drive to dismantle alternative spiritual beliefs rely on this ignorance of ourselves, and its why alternative spirituality is such a threat to them. If people were aware or willing to be aware of their own psychology and how and why they think and feel the way the do, they would be onto the manipulation, be able to combat it and retain psychological integrity. As it is now, that is nearly all but lost.

        People put alternative spirituality down, but they don’t see the ploy behind this put down, they don’t see or realise the incredible wisdom and intelligence that is born from self knowledge and its ability to transform the psyche to able to intelligently and directly combat the evil in the world.

        I hope people do take a serious interest into this censorship and web filtering problem, and more importantly take an interest in discovering what actually makes them think, feel and act the way they do.

        • Very well put Layla and Dara. What you are saying makes a lot of sense to me.

        • Changing beliefs so that consumerism becomes god? Sounds like the section from the sermon on the mount in the bible – no one can serve God and mammon.

          I was in my teens when I started really looking into spirituality, so I wouldn’t have fit the definition of “adult” (if by that someone is defined as being over 18). Saying that alternative belief is an adult concept divorces the whole idea of spirituality being a universal thing!

  8. Thank you for this article Matthew. Very informative and eye-opening for me to see the negative way that alternative beliefs are described. The language can play such a big role in people’s choices, especially when it is often not the individual who is making the choice but an organization on behalf of many.

    It is looking like the internet is moving away from being a place of free information and people who seek alternative spirituality will soon have to look elsewhere. The problem I see now is the still common ‘belief’ that the internet is ‘free’, and I imagine it is the place where many people go to in order to search for alternative spirituality (as well as many other alternative categories – health, nutrition, education, etc.). And often enough, if I don’t find something on the internet, or at least some lead towards that, I assume that it is not available – which is a problem. I wander also about the impact of profit from alternative spirituality. I know it’s a big market on the internet, and I don’t imagine that it will be suppressed by any form of filter.

    I can see that many things can be done to help with that issue and informing the general public of the issue seems to be the first step. I also wander if there are specific legal bodies that can be approached on the internet or around the world who have some power. There are such organizations – such as the United Nations, or region specific organizations such as the European Union. But whether or not they are willing to do something about those issues is another matter.

    • Hi Aleksandr,

      There are specific legal bodies depending on your location. I think that the first step if anyone notices this happening at a public internet connection near them, would be to research what the anti-discrimination laws are in that location, and what body they might be able to appeal to.

      Once you know what your rights are you could put in an informed complaint to the place providing the filtered service. If that doesn’t work there may be a specific legal body you can complain to.

      For example in Queensland, Australia there is the Anti Discrimination Commission: http://www.adcq.qld.gov.au

      The Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of religious or political belief or activity toward people attending schools, colleges, universities or other educational institutions. Education institutions must not provide “access to resources and facilities” to students in a discriminatory way.

      On that basis, a student in the State of Qld, where the State Government is using Blue Coat to block Alternative Beliefs in Schools, would have grounds to make a complaint to the commission if they find that they are being discriminated against when they attend that school (not being allowed to access info on their beliefs while other students are)

      The limitations of these laws is that you usually have to be the one who is discriminated against in that location, and show that a service is being rendered to you in a discriminatory way. So in Queensland you would have to be a student enrolled in a school to have protection under the Act in this setting. So if you are outside that location you may not be protected by the law, and it would really depend on the people affected in that location to stand up.

      In the case of the US, the First Amendment gives much broader protection, but someone would still have to show that their rights were directly violated by the filtering, as happened to person who couldn’t access information in the public library in Salem for instance. But she had the benefit of being able to go to the ACLU for help. There may be similar advocacy bodies in other locations.

      Spreading the word about this discrimination going on is a good idea, so that when people are affected they know there is often something they can do and take action where they are.

  9. It’s unbelievable how many websites are blocked by Blue Coat and Fortiguard. I find that it’s very important to make people aware of these wrong actions which completely undermine our human rights.

    Thanks Matthew for taking the time to do such an informative research.

  10. Good on the ACLU for taking a stand. I wish there was an organisation like that in Australia.

    Personally I feel that negative connotations towards alternative spirituality have been the norm for centuries, and these days people have it somewhat programmed within them to automatically be suspicious of non-mainstream beliefs and practices. I sure did before I started getting into it and understood it.

    That study showing the link between internet filtering companies and religious organisations tells a lot. Who says the Inquisition ever stopped – maybe it did in one sense but it certainly continues in other ways.

    • “Who says the Inquisition ever stopped – maybe it did in one sense but it certainly continues in other ways.”

      It may not have! Apparently the modern day successor of the Inquisition is known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and it was headed up by Joseph Ratzinger before he became Pope Benedict the 16th!


      It would be very interesting to know if the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith played a role in any of the web filters!

  11. Thanks Mathew, it’s really interesting to see a break-down of how subjects are catagorized with the filters, it makes it seem even more controlling and prejudiced to put peolpes’ interest into universal spirituality along side such blatantly damaging material. It really is a huge concern that these freedoms are slowy being sapped away from us, subtly enough for most people not to realise or take action at the time, which seems to be part of the game.

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