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

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?

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About Matthew Osmund

Matthew Osmund 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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