New Test List Editor: Contribute to websites for censorship testing

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Maria Xynou
2022-07-29

Today the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) team is thrilled to announce the public launch of our new Test list editor!

This platform allows the public to review and contribute to website listings (“test lists”) which are
tested for censorship by OONI Probe users around the world.

Help the internet freedom community discover website blocks around the world by contributing through the new test list editor!

What are test lists?

Test lists are lists of websites tested for censorship by OONI Probe and tools developed by other projects, such as Censored Planet.

Since 2014, these lists have been publicly hosted on GitHub by the Citizen Lab in an effort to encourage community reviews and contributions. Therefore, these lists have been dynamically and continuously updated over the years.

The test lists include a wide range of different types of websites based on 30 standardized categories (such as news media, political criticism, and human rights content). Because these lists are tested by OONI Probe users on local networks (which may experience bandwidth constraints), they typically only include up to 1,000 URLs.

Unlike a blocklist (which is a list of banned websites – which are usually all blocked – and can include thousands of URLs), test lists are not supposed to be limited to blocked websites. Rather, they are used to monitor when policies change – what is most likely to be blocked or unblocked.

Although test lists usually include some websites known to be blocked, many sites are not locally censored when added to test lists. With the test lists, we aim to learn about website censorship (by identifying the blocking of sites that were previously accessible), not just confirming it.

Types of test lists

There are 2 categories of test lists:

  • Global test list: includes a wide range of internationally relevant websites (e.g. facebook.com), most of which are in English. This list is tested by everything OONI Probe users worldwide.

  • Country specific test lists: Each list includes websites that are only relevant to a specific country (e.g. Brazilian media websites), many of which are in local languages. OONI Probe users test the list of countries they run tests from (for example, OONI Probe users in Brazil test the Brazilian test list).

Why contribute to the test lists?

Finding instances of website blocking (like the current blocking of bbc.com in Russia) really depends on who websites you test.

For example, if a specific human rights website is blocked in a country, but it is not included in a relevant test list, it will not be tested by tools like OONI Probe, which which means that relevant test results will not be openly published. The results of website censorship are therefore only as interesting as the websites tested!

You can play an important role in ensuring that your country’s test list includes websites worth watching for censorship.

Updating test lists requires local knowledgean understanding of which websites are relevant, commonly accessed and more likely to be blocked in light of a country’s social and political environment.

Websites are constantly changing (eg domains expire, domains change, new websites are created) and what is susceptible to blocking changes over time. It is therefore important that the test lists are reviewed and updated regularly.

OONI Probe website test results are automatically published as real-time open data.

Why a web platform to contribute to test lists?

Community members with a social science background (such as political scientists, researchers, journalists, and human rights advocates) are often in the best position to update test lists. A thorough understanding of a country’s social and political environment is often necessary to identify the types of websites that are at risk of censorship (as many website blockings are often politically motivated, reflect social and cultural norms and have an impact on marginalized groups).

However, test lists have been hosted on GitHub, which is a platform primarily used by developers. This presented a barrier to contributing to test lists.

To make it easier for our wider community to review and contribute to testlists, we’ve created a new Testlist Editor. This platform includes all Citizen Lab test lists, and users can add URLs, edit existing entries, and propose entries to be deleted through a web interface (without using GitHub). User contributions (submitted through the testlist editor) automatically end up as pull requests on GitHub, which are peer-reviewed by Citizen Lab, OONI, Censored Planet, and Netalitica. Once these pull requests are reviewed and merged, the contributions are integrated into test lists and (automatically) prioritized for OONI Probe testing.

You can use the new test list editor by following the steps below.

Step 1. Go to https://test-lists.ooni.org/

Test list editor

2nd step. Add your e-mail address in the Email slot (we do not store email addresses).

Test list editor

Step 3. Click on Login. This will send a link to your email address.

Test list editor

Step 4. Click on the link (“Please login here”) sent to your email address to login to the test list editor.

Test list editor

Step 5. Once connected to the platform, select a list of tests
via the drop-down menu.

Test list editor

In this example, we have selected the test list for Azerbaijan.

Test list editor

As part of reviewing a list of tests, you can:

  • To add websites;

  • Edit existing entries (update URL, update category, add relevant context in Notes);

  • Wipe off existing entries (for example, if the domain has expired or is no longer relevant).

Adding websites

To add a website to a test list:

Step 1. Add the URL (for example https://news.az/) to the location of the URL.

Test list editor

2nd step. Select a category (eg. News Media) via the Category drop-down menu to categorize the URL (e.g. https://news.az/) You added.

Test list editor

Optional. If you would like to add relevant context regarding the added URL (which may help other searchers), please add it under Notes.

Test list editor

Step 3. Click on To add.

Test list editor

Your addition will be saved and you can continue to add many more websites.

Step 4. When you’re done making changes, click Submit to suggest your changes.

Test list editor

Editing Test List Entries

You can modify the existing test list entries to:

  • Update the URL. If a website supports HTTPS, you can update it to HTTPS. Or if a domain has changed, you can replace the URL with the new URL.

  • Update category. If you think a website is miscategorized, you can change the category.

  • Add remarks. If you want to share relevant background information related to a URL, please add it in the Notes section.

To edit existing test list entries:

Step 1. Click it edit icon in the entrance row.

Test list editor

This will bring up the edit screen.

Test list editor

2nd step. Edit the entry by updating the URL, updating the category, or adding helpful context in the notes.

Test list editor

Step 3. To allow your changes to be reviewed by a third party, please briefly explain why you are making these changes in the Comment section.

Step 4. Click on Do when you are done with your changes.

Your proposed changes (along with any other changes) will appear at the top of the test list editor.

Test list editor

Step 5. When you’re done making changes, click Submit to suggest your changes.

Deleting Test List Entries

You can propose the removal of an entry from the test list if a website is no longer available (eg expired domain) or if the website is not relevant for the specific country.

To delete entries from the test list:

Step 1. Click it delete icon in the entrance row.

Test list editor

This will bring up the deletion screen.

Test list editor

2nd step. Please explain why you want to propose the deletion of a URL (eg “The website no longer exists”).

Step 3. Click on Wipe off to propose the deletion of this URL.

Your deletion proposal (along with any other changes) will appear at the top of the test list editor.

Test list editor

Step 4. When you’re done making changes, click Submit to suggest your changes.

We thank the Citizen Lab for their leadership in creating the Testlist Project and for hosting the Testlists publicly on GitHub (since 2014), enabling significant community contributions over the past 8 years.

Special thanks to the researchers at Netalitica for their excellent work on updating and thoroughly improving numerous test lists over the past few years! Through their network of national experts and researchers, they have significantly improved the quality of website testing, leading to the discovery of multiple cases of website censorship around the world.

A big thank you to our partners and all other members of the community who have contributed to the test lists over the years. We also thank community members (such as Coding Rights and The Bachchao Project) who facilitated testlist workshops, encouraging contributions from their local communities.

Finally, we thank all the members of the community who shared their feedback on the development and improvement of our new test list editor. We hope this platform will encourage even more contributions in the years to come!

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