Reporters Without Borders is using Minecraft to sneak censored news to readers in restrictive countries

Reporters Without Borders enlisted 24 builders, who used 12.5 million virtual Minecraft blocks, to build The Uncensored Library in the popular online computer game.
Source: Reporters Without Borders

Every day, restrictive governments around the world try to censor the flow of information that reaches their citizens by blocking internet access to news and social media sites. But one group is now using the massively popular video game Minecraft to get around those restrictions.

Organizations like Reporters Without Borders, a global nonprofit promoting press freedom, are often forced to find creative loopholes to help the spread of banned news stories and other information to readers in countries that have otherwise restricted access to them.

In the latest example of those efforts, Reporters Without Borders said this week that the organization has turned to the massively popular video game, which is owned by Microsoft and is played by over 145 million people around the world each month.

Reporters Without Borders is using Minecraft's world-building game play to build The Uncensored Library, a virtual library for hosting news articles that have been banned in their countries of origin — places like Vietnam, Russia and Saudi Arabia — or written by journalists who were jailed or killed as a result of their reporting.

A wing of Reporters Without Borders' Uncensored Library in Minecraft dedicated to news articles censored in Vietnam.
Source: Reporters Without Borders

"In many countries around the world, there is no free access to information," Christian Mihr, the managing director of Reporters Without Borders Germany, said in a statement.

"Websites are blocked, independent newspapers are banned and the press is controlled by the state. Young people grow up without being able to form their own opinions. By using Minecraft, the world's most popular computer game, as a medium, we give them access to independent information."

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The library, which officially opened on Thursday, currently hosts just a handful of banned articles from five countries: Egypt, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. But Reporters Without Borders notes that "the library is growing, with more and more books being added to overcome censorship."

Among the articles currently available in the library is a 2018 article from Mada Masr, an Egyptian news website that has been censored by that country's government since 2017, and another article by Mexican journalist Javier Valdez, who was killed in 2017 after reporting on drug-trafficking in his country.

"These articles are now available again within Minecraft hidden from government surveillance technology inside a computer game. The books can be read by everyone on the server, but their content cannot be changed," Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.

While countries around the world have banned or restricted access to news websites and social media networks — including Facebook and Snapchat — so far, Minecraft has not been banned by any countries. (Though, in 2015, Turkey's government did flirt with the idea of banning the computer game due to concerns over violent elements in Minecraft, which does allow players to use weapons to hit or kill other characters.)

In Minecraft, players can use blocks made of varying building materials to make virtual structures ranging from a hut to a castle. But for The Uncensored Library, Reporters Without Borders enlisted the help of 24 different builders from 16 countries to build a massive virtual structure that took 250 hours and over 12.5 million blocks to complete, according to the nonprofit group. 

The press freedom statue outside Reporters Without Borders' virtual library created for Minecraft.
Source: Reporters Without Borders

The result, which can be visited within the online game itself or at the library's website, is a neoclassical building based on the architectural styles of ancient Rome and Greece. The library features multiple wings, with each dedicated to banned news stories from a particular country, and it's virtual location is on an isolated island filled with outdoor gardens and a large statue of a hand gripping a pen, meant to symbolize press freedom.

This isn't the first time Reporters Without Borders has found a workaround to deliver censored or restricted news to readers around the world. In 2018, the group converted multiple censored news articles into pop songs and then released a playlist on streaming services such as Spotify, Amazon and Apple Music that are available even in countries that have restricted access to other online sources of news.

A Microsoft spokesperson did not immediately respond to CNBC Make It's request for comment.

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