The internet is not freedom juice, and other notes on firewalls in China and elsewhere.

Posted: 30 Mar 2010   Print   Send a link
"Only three days after Google announced the end of its censorship services in China on March 22, criticism of Google has disappeared from the headlines of the Chinese regime's mouthpiece, Xinhua news online. In contrast to its previous criticism of 'United States-backed information imperialism,' the Chinese regime has now played down the incident as an 'individual act by a commercial enterprise.' China analysts believe this is a tactic to quickly divert public attention away from the incident for fear that Chinese citizens may raise more questions regarding the details of the censorship and the regime's control of information." Zhang Haishan, Epoch Times, 28 March 2010.
     Alan Huang's company, "UltraReach Internet, is among a group of companies that make up the Global Internet Freedom Consortium. Through the consortium's simple software, often downloaded through an e-mail, a person can step outside whatever blocking or surveillance their country imposes and freely access anyplace on the Web. ... While the largest share of the consortium's traffic still comes from China, the service is seeing a surge from Iran — where the government cracked down last year on democracy activists using YouTube, Facebook and other social networking tools to communicate — and from Vietnam. The consortium also gets many users from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries — including the United States." Mike Swift, San Jose Mercury News, 26 March 2010.
     "Even with censorship, the free-wheeling Internet— especially user-generated content — is a dramatic departure from tradition inside China, where the state controlled news and information with an iron grip for decades. Under that system, the central government disseminated the party line to state-owned newspapers, radio and television, which reported accordingly. Circulation of foreign papers in China was restricted. As the Internet became available to the public in the early 2000s, at first through cybercafé’s that proliferated in cities, and then through widely available in-home and office connections, the government’s ability to control the flow of information began to unravel. ... On some blogs, politically sensitive posts are blocked at the publication stage, ... while others are delayed for 'moderation' and then posted -- or not. Some are posted only in private view, so only the author can view them. ... More commonly, single blog entries disappear 24 hours or so after they are posted. That has created a tendency among knowledgeable Chinese Web surfers to quickly squirrel away potentially sensitive information that they encounter." Kari Huus, MSNBC, 26 March 2010.
     "The deep irony is how authorities use the Internet -- with its enormous potential to promote discussion and the free exchange of ideas -- as a means to silence and intimidate. It seems hardly imaginable that the Internet could be used as a tool of suppression. But so successful is China's model that other authoritarian governments strive to emulate it." Libby Liu, RFA president, Huffington Post, 26 March 2010.
     "Microblogging and Internet searches are their own freedom, and if China wants to block itself off from the Internet and live in a little bubble, let it. More Internet for the rest of us, I say." Greg Dewar, Daily Emerald (University of Oregon), 29 March 2010.
     "When asked about the internet freedom\political freedom linkage, panelist Rebecca McKinnon had what I found to be a pretty insightful response: It depends on what else is happening in the larger environment. McKinnon pointed out that there’s a tendency to look at this issue only in terms of access, but in most cases, it’s not just the blocking of websites or services that’s the problem, it’s all the other bad things usually done by authoritarian governments. When governments can remove web content, surveil users, conduct cyber-attacks, control domain-name registration, etc, expanding access is, in most cases, insufficient for the creation of political liberalization. As McKinnon put it, this is why the internet is not 'freedom juice,' which magically results in democratization. There are limits to what U.S. legislation or diplomacy can achieve if governments are bent on restricting their citizens’ internet activities." Patrick Barry, Democracy Arsenal, 25 March 2010.
     "By now it’s obvious that the Chinese reality is far murkier—all that whatnot, the great gray zone of personal improvement without political advancement. And the country has shown a strong and stubborn tendency to resist following any political model imported from abroad. Outsiders might have a great deal of influence, but it’s often indirect; foreigners can provide key tools, but the Chinese are determined to figure out how to use them on their own. And now, when it comes to the Internet, there’s one less tool out there." Peter Hessler, New Yorker, 26 March 2010.
     "[H]ave you, ordinary citizen like myself, ever tried to touch base with the Communist Chinese Embassy in Washington? Its website is, to put it charitably, under construction. If you click on the all-important part of any website, 'contact us,' you get the following message: 'Sorry, the webpage you browsed has been deleted!.'" John Brown, Huffington Post, 26 March 2010.
     "Implementing artful public diplomacy needs good understanding of reliability, the status and role of self criticism, as well as the role of 'civil society' in the process of implementing soft power. What we need to pay more attention is that public diplomacy which appears to be propaganda weakens soft power. And soft power should be built on the foundation of the understanding of other people's ideas, because the best public diplomacy should be always bidirectional." People's Daily Online, 26 March 2010.