Can Online Censorship Really Work In China?

from the it's-all-propaganda dept

With so much focus being placed on Google’s recent moves in China, we’ve written about some of the complexities of the situation there — where we raised the issue of whether or not censoring the internet could ever really work. Contributing to that viewpoint is a fascinating story of an editor at a major Chinese publication who was able to spread the news of a new “incentive” plan at the newspaper, that would reward writers who were praised by government officials, and fine those who upset party officials. It won’t surprise many to find out that the guy who wrote the piece trashing the plan ended up losing his job — but the government backed down on the plan after it spread so fast across the internet that they were unable to make it “disappear” the way they had hoped. The story of how the story spread is certainly interesting, but even more interesting may be the story of how the government handles news censorship and propaganda — gathering the heads of various news organizations, telling them which stories to play up, and which to play down. Of course, there are many different ways of handling propaganda, and while the Chinese may focus on burying stories they dislike, they’d likely point out that the opposite may occur in the US, where we hear stories about the government trying to figure out better ways to spread propaganda. Of course, the lesson in all of this that should apply to both situations is that truth and honest opinions are what spread, and they do so naturally and (as much as possible) around barriers. Propaganda is tougher to spread if people don’t believe it — and truth is hard to suppress, once it’s out there.

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Comments on “Can Online Censorship Really Work In China?”

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Howard Lee Harkness (user link) says:

Can online censorship work in China?

Short answer: No. Longer answer: About as well as online censorship will work anywhere else. The internet will be the death of any closed society, and China has gone too far down the path of open trade to back out now without enormous (catastrophic) costs.

The Celtic Fiddler
I import violins and accessories from China

Andrew Strasser (user link) says:

It's actually nice to see Google make the move.

Bringing democracy to a people in any form is a good thing. Even if their laws will do everything to stop it on the way. Once the internet is installed and we all have communication it’s as easy as grass roots in this case. I am very happy to see China’s “Great Wall” begining to show some signs of weakness to technology. You have to respect a country’s position, however each person should be valued as an integral part of that tree of life they hold so dear in China. Those people, because of that, deserve to make conscious decisions for themselves.

Mark (profile) says:

Truth more believable than fiction?

“Of course, the lesson in all of this that should apply to both situations is that truth and honest opinions are what spread, and they do so naturally and (as much as possible) around barriers. Propaganda is tougher to spread if people don’t believe it — and truth is hard to suppress, once it’s out there.”

I’d really like that to be true, but is there any reason to think that truth is more believable — and therefore more likely to spread online — than falsehood? There are still people out there who think Hitler was a courageous crusader against an international Jewish conspiracy, and that the Holocaust is a hoax. There are people who devoutly believe that the U.S. space program never actually landed on the moon. There are those who believe — despite repeated disappointment — that the end of the world is right around the corner. It would seem that history teaches us that error is often much more seductive than truth.

I remember when the demonstrations at Tiananmen Square were in progress, and every talking head on television was pronouncing that truth and freedom were like a genie in a bottle: once it gets out, you can’t get it back in again. But then the tanks showed up and that genie was bottled quite handily. Maybe the remarkable fact is that truth sometimes does win out in spite of everything. Just as often, though, propaganda, lies, and disinformation rule the day.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: No Subject Given

spreading “our” democracy is like spreading the bird flu, huh? that’s about the most asnine thing i think i’ve every heard. you don’t get out much, do you! every been to another country? i’m so sick of people bashing our country. if you don’t like it, why don’t you move? no really, move…

the unknown says:

Re: Re: No Subject Given

A couple of one-liners to brighten your day Anonymous Coward, enjoy:

“i’m so sick of people bashing our country”
I’m so sick of our country bashing/bullying other countries.

“you don’t get out much, do you! every been to another country?”
Yeah plenty, loved it! Did you?

“if you don’t like it, why don’t you move? no really, move…”
I did! =)

“spreading “our” democracy is like spreading the bird flu”
That’s hilarious!

emichan says:

Re: Re: No Subject Given

I’m sick of people mindlessly praising our country. You always hear the same sorts of things: “if you don’t like it,why don’t you leave” “try going to (insert name of foreign country here)” blah blah. Well, the truth of the matter is, yeah, we do have it good in this country compared to, i don’t know specific numbers, but a vast majority of the rest of the population of Earth.
However, even if you believe that our system of government is the best thing going in the world today, you should still hope for better. Let’s face it, no amount of flag-waving, victory-garden-growing, mindless patriotism is going to fix the enormous problems we nevertheless face in this country.
Our system of government and our country aren’t perfect, so even assuming it is the best right now, should we stop wanting better? Should we stop trying, endlessly, to attain what perfection we can acquire? Should we be satisfied with what we have and have no hope for better things for our descendants? Obviously not. But unless there’s criticism, and dialog about the problems we face, we can have no hope for anything except maintaining status quo.
Anyway, sorry i ran on for so long… am going now…

elaine (user link) says:


Freedom could be likened to drugs because once a person has a taste of it, the person keeps on coming back for more. This could be the case for China which was enclosed to global concepts because of their isolation.
Now that they have tasted a “little” freedom especially in communication, most government officials are attempting to censor such activities. For me, this kind of action would not do any good because a person makes his/her own decision and whatever intervention that the Chinese government would result to, it would not be able to influence a person’s point of view. In this case, a compromised solution would only do because if only one party would prevail, the consequences would be much worse.

Zoloft says:

Censorship, Google and Liberty

A good deal of mental diarhhea passes through the world uncommented on and dismissed out of hand. When one of the world’s largest free-market companies begins dealing with Dictators in order to make a buck, it can not be dismissed. Google is in bed with the same people who slaughtered their own citizens for the crime of being able to speak their minds freely, openly, without harm. This is just disgraceful and Google will reap what it has sown.

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