How China's Attempts To Censor The Internet Are Failing

from the nice-try dept

Just as Bono is claiming that the world should look to China’s success in censoring the internet as a good example of how other countries can fight unauthorized internet file sharing, the Wall Street Journal is reporting on just how badly China’s “war” against the internet is going, noting that the more it tries to censor, the more trouble it’s having in doing so:

The Internet has enabled more Chinese to have more access to information today, and given them greater ability to communicate and express themselves than at any time since the founding of the People’s Republic.

Because of that, even as China tries to crack down, it simply leads to more people figuring out ways around the barriers:

But for each critic the authorities stop, more rise. “There are simply too many people,” says Xiao Qiang, a scholar who studies the Chinese Internet at the University of California at Berkeley. “They can do that to a very small group … but the approach certainly is not good enough to intimidate all the voices online.”

Mr. Xiao points to the example of Liu Xiaobo, detained in December 2008 for his role in creating Charter 08, a sweeping call for political and legal reform in China. Mr. Liu was sentenced on Christmas Day to 11 years in prison for subversion. But since his detention, thousands more Chinese have signed Charter 08 through Internet sites that disseminate the document.

That’s not to say that the government hasn’t become good at cracking down on things it doesn’t like, and the article certainly notes just that the government is “losing,” not that it has “lost.” However, it also points out that rising voices of complaints are having an impact, noting how China’s “Green Dam” plan to install internet filters on all PCs was eventually stopped due to public protest over the idea. So, yes, the government has continued to censor the internet in China, and many users have more trouble reaching certain sites or types of information, but that does not mean that internet censorship works or that it’s been successful in suppressing opposition content and discussion online. No matter what Bono believes.

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Comments on “How China's Attempts To Censor The Internet Are Failing”

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Andrew F (profile) says:


My hunch is that Beijing is actually quite successful at censoring certain types of content and less so with others. The key factor is how much “the average netizen” cooperates — e.g. marginalized minority groups probably have a harder time than groups focused on more populist issues because they’re more likely to be marked as spam and less likely to be forwarded.

On the flip side, I’d bet that gaming and porn, two the of the justifications Beijing uses to build up public support for censorship, are actually the least effectively censored because of substantial “public support”.

Would love to see some research on this, but I’m guessing it’s hard because when something is successfully censored, no one knows about it. You could do a counter-factual saying the level of discussion on Issue X would be Y if the government had not censored it, but that’s dangerous territory for a researcher.

The Anti-Mike (profile) says:

The point isn’t just to censor, it is also to monitor and locate dissidents and their followers. A site that is open and can be reached is pretty much just a honeypot, as the people that it attracts are marking themselves as dissidents as well.

Last time I checked, Techdirt wasn’t available in China. Not sure if they opened it back up or not, I’ll check in a couple of weeks to see.

Gene Cavanaugh (profile) says:

China and the Internet

Well written and carefully thought out article! I wish the newspapers would do as well.

I have a very close friend in China (PR China, to be exact) who wants to share pictures of her new grandbaby, and would love to have pictures of our great-grandson and the grandkids.

However, these things are evidently “subversive”, because the Chinese government is blocking us!!

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