The China Situation: When Politics, Business And Culture Clash
from the ain't-no-easy-solutions dept
For obvious reasons, a lot of folks are talking about the China situation, concerning how big American companies are participating in the government-mandated information blocking. This isn’t a new issue. It’s been discussed for years. However, with the high profile move of Google entering China, suddenly Congress felt it needed to do something. The reports on the hearings are pretty much what you’d expect. Mock outrage with explanations and discussions of tradeoffs. Much ado about nothing, basically.
What may be much more interesting is the response on all sides. On the US side, there’s the question of whether or not this is simply mixing business and politics, and whether the government should be able to try to influence policy in foreign countries via private companies. Over in China, however, there are a few surprises. What’s gotten the most attention is China’s decision to openly defend its position, claiming its no different than US or European policies trying to protect online users from things that may be dangerous. However, much more surprising, is the news that a number of Chinese politicians are warning the government that taking censorship too far is dangerous — showing a level of political discourse that often isn’t made public.
It’s that last piece that provides a good point of discussion. Bill Gates has basically said that China’s censorship policy wouldn’t work anyway, so there’s no use getting upset about it. Realistically, though, all the discussions and issues of moral relevancy and such are distractions from the core issue. It’s a question of intent and impact. The intent is always about “protection.” In the US it’s protection from things that the US government feels is dangerous: porn and such. In China it’s protection from things that the Chinese government feels is dangerous: political upheaval. However, the impact is important. Any kind of blocking online presumes that if this kind of information is blocked, everything will be fine. The “issue” goes away. Unfortunately, the reverse is often true. The “issue” simmers and tends to get worse because no one deals with it, and no one is able to talk about it and come up with ways to really deal with it. Jennifer Granick has an excellent piece at Wired News pointing out that everyone’s going to be offended by something online. Creating the perfectly unoffensive internet would kill it. So, instead of worrying about that, wouldn’t people be a lot better off if, instead of trying to “protect” everyone, we taught everyone how to “protect” themselves — and understand that not all content online is good? Plenty of it is bad — but if you learn how to understand the content and put it into context, the impact of the “bad” content can be greatly minimized. And that applies everywhere. The governments won’t pay attention, of course. They often have different, much more political, motives. However, if people learned how to be more self-sufficient when it came to understanding and processing information to protect themselves, there’d be a lot less need for governments to feel the need to step in — for whatever reasons.