NY Times Uncritically Says Fake News Debate Supports Chinese Style Censorship
from the did-we-not-warn-of-this? dept
It used to be a laughable claim: that the US should emulate the Great Firewall of China and support much greater internet censorship. Sure, you’d have people like the MPAA’s Chris Dodd or U2 frontman Bono cheer on Chinese censorship as a good example of how to censor the internet (in their cases, to block infringing content), but most people still remained rightly horrified by the idea that the answer to “bad” content online is a massive censorship regime. But, apparently, that may be changing.
Last year, right after the election, we directly warned that everyone freaking out about “fake news” on Facebook would eventually lead to calls to censor the internet a la China. And, now the NY Times has taken a big step in that direction, by posting a ridiculous article talking about how China has been “vindicated” by its approach to censoring the internet:
For years, the United States and others saw this sort of heavy-handed censorship as a sign of political vulnerability and a barrier to China?s economic development. But as countries in the West discuss potential internet restrictions and wring their hands over fake news, hacking and foreign meddling, some in China see a powerful affirmation of the country?s vision for the internet.
?This kind of thing would not happen here,? Mr. Zhao said of the controversy over Russia?s influence in the American presidential election last year.
Of course, as Ben Thompson pointed out, the reason it won’t happen in China is because there are no Presidential elections in China:
THAT'S BECAUSE THERE ARE NO PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS pic.twitter.com/fdso1ntybP
— Ben Thompson (@benthompson) October 17, 2017
While the NY Times does attempt to present some “balance” in the form of “concerns” from human rights activists, it also celebrates some of the internet’s censors in China, and says that the success of Chinese internet companies is proof that censorship doesn’t appear to harm innovation. The article closes on a chilling example of a “volunteer” spying on fellow internet users, and handing them happily over to the police — and suggesting that this is a good way to stop bad people online:
In a restaurant called Europa, Mr. Zhao ? who declined to disclose details of where and how he works ? described China?s system not as ?Big Brother? so much as a younger brother, which he is, protecting children, like those of his sister, from harmful material.
?Even though the internet is virtual, it is still part of society,? he added. ?So in any space I feel no one should create pornographic, illegal or violent posts.?
In his new capacity, he scours Weibo in search of the lurid and illicit. Some posts, he explained, are thinly veiled solicitations for pornography or prostitution, including one message he reported to the police the other day for using what he said was a euphemism for selling sex.
When he reports abuse, it is the police who follow up. He excitedly displayed his smartphone to show the latest of his more than 3,000 followers on Weibo: the division of the Beijing police that monitors the internet.
?Normally, if you don?t do bad things, you don?t get followed by the police,? he said. ?I think this ? for someone who has been online for so many years ? is really special.?
Those paragraphs should be chilling for those who believe in free speech or who have even the slightest knowledge of the history of authoritarianism and how governments — including China’s — stamp out alternative and reformist viewpoints with an iron fist. It should be antithetical to how we operate here, and to have the NY Times post a pretty glowing profile of the Great Firewall of China is downright frightening.