Tag Archives: censorship

Apple Prohibits Reference to Amazon in iBookstore – and Cory Doctorow Leaves

evil Apple As a multinational corporation Apple is many things – a firm that designs and sells consumer electronics, software, personal computers and it’s the largest distributor of digital music. They are also a growing force in eBook sales though a recent action to ban a book due to its mention of Amazon reveals a astonishing degree of unprofessional behavior. It resulted in Doctorow pulling his own works from the iBookstore and for a content distributor their behavior is simply unfathomable .

It’s worth reading Doctorow’s full explanation in boingboing:

Author Holly Lisle has a series of online writing guides that she sells. One volume of this, “How To Think Sideways Lesson 6: How To Discover (Or Create) Your Story’s Market” was rejected by Apple’s iBooks store. At first, Apple told Lisle that she wasn’t allowed to have “live links” to Amazon in her books. So she removed the links and resubmitted the book, and then Apple rejected it again, telling her that they wouldn’t sell her book because it mentioned Amazon, a competitor of its iBooks store.

But I also will not deal with this sort of head-up-ass behavior from a distributor. You don’t tell someone “The problem is the live links,” and then, when that person has complied with your change request and removed the live links, turn around and say, “No, no. The problem is the CONTENT. You can’t mention Amazon in your lesson.

This is not professional behavior from a professional market.

And cold moment of truth here—you cannot write a writing course that includes information on publishing and self-publishing and NOT mention Amazon. It’s the place where your writers are going to make about 90% of their money.

So I’m pulling ALL my work from the iBookstore today. I apologize to iBookstore fans. I tried. Hard.

But I’m done. 

 

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Pakistan Restores Access to Twitter after Ban

Twitter Access Temporarily Banned in PakistanAnother government takes on Twitter . . .  and quickly backs down. Or so it seems. Access to Twitter was blocked throughout Pakistan on Sunday due to messages ”offensive to Islam”. While there were references to “blasphemous and inflammatory content” by the Ministry for Information and Technology, no reason was given for the ban, or the face that it was quickly lifted it eight hours later. According to the AtlanticWire, the action was taken due to tweets regarding a Facebook competition that called for users to submit drawings of the Prophet Muhammad (images of the prophet are forbidden).

Ali Dayan Hasan, the Pakistan director at Human Rights Watch, told the New York Times the ban is,

. . . ill-advised, counterproductive and will ultimately prove to be futile as all such attempts at censorship have proved to be.” He added that, “The right to free speech is nonnegotiable, and if Pakistan is the rights-respecting democracy it claims to be, this ban must be lifted forthwith. Free speech can and should only be countered with free speech.  

It sounds though as if many Pakistani were able to get around the ban by using proxy servers. According to the Guardian:

The ban was made largely irrelevant by tech-savvy users. Twitter members, many aided by online articles in the Pakistani media explaining how to circumvent the curbs, installed proxy servers to shield their web browsing. Once back online, many posted angry tweets about the shutdown.

One poster wondered how a known terrorist “can roam and operate freely in Pakistan whilst social media is banned!

Perhaps more troubling is the article by Huma Yusuf  (a columnist for the Pakistani newspaper Dawn) in today’s New York Times on the temporary ban. He notes that many bloggers feel this was just a test run:

In February, Pakistan invited bids for an Internet filtering system that could block up to 50 million URLs (the idea was shelved following a backlash from civil society). Last year, the P.T.A. attempted to ban 1,500 “immoral” terms from use in cellphone text messages. In 2010, a Pakistani court banned Facebookand other social network sites for two weeks on the grounds that they were hosting blasphemous content. A few years earlier, the Pakistani government made YouTube crash worldwide after trying to block the site for streaming the infamous Danish cartoons of Muhammad.

The government claims to be censoring only blasphemous content, but it is notable that social networking sites are among the few remaining venues in Pakistan for unfettered political debate. The IT ministry has blocked dozens of Web sites that champion the cause of separatists in Pakistan’s western Balochistan province, where human rights abuses by the security establishment are rampant. Last year, Rolling Stone magazine was blockedonline after publishing an article about the Pakistani Army’s expenditures.

Many bloggers and free speech activists in Pakistan believe that the Twitter ban was a “test run” by the IT ministry — a chance to flex its censorship muscles. With the experiment occurring months ahead of the next expected general election, Pakistanis should take any violation of their right to free speech seriously. The next ban may not be as short-lived as this one. 

A number of countries and social groups are pushing back against the new-found freedom of expression facilitated by social media. It is sad to see reactionary forces try to stifle dialogue under the pretense of offending someone or as in the case of Azerbaijan where social media has become synonymous with deviance and criminality.

 

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Azerbaijan’s Aggressive Anti-Social Media Campaign

Azerbaijan arrestCountries that see social media as a threat to their stability usually try to censor content or limit access, but the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan has tried a different approach. In the news recently as the upcoming host of the Eurovision Song Contest, one of the world’s most popular and widely followed non-sporting events, Azerbaijan has poured money into infrastructure projects to clean up its image. But this small country has made it very clear over the past few years that it has no love of the Internet and has taken a novel approach to keeping people off line.

According to Sarah Kendzior and Katy Pearce in Slate:

Over the past few years, the Azerbaijani government has waged an aggressive media campaign against the Internet. Social media has become synonymous with deviance, criminality, and treason. Television programs show ‘‘family tragedies’’ and ‘‘criminal incidents’’ after young people join Facebook and Twitter. In March 2011, the country’s chief psychiatrist proclaimed that social media users suffer mental disorders and cannot maintain relationships. In April 2012, the Interior Ministry linked Facebook use with trafficking of woman and sexual abuse of children. Since May 2011, the Azerbaijani parliament has been debating laws to curtail social media, citing the deleterious effect on society. Social media has become a vital political issue despite the fact that 78 percent of Azerbaijanis have never used the Internet, only 7 percent go online daily, and just 7 percent—almost all male, highly educated, and wealthy—use Facebook.

Is the campaign successful? Just compare Azerbaijan to its two neighboring countries Armenia and Georgia where the cost of technology and access is comparable. In the latter countries, 20% are online every day while in Azerbaijan, it’s only a paltry 7 percent. And with ongoing arrests of anyone who speaks out on the Internet, online discussions are not a means of empowerment but potential evidence for the state police.

Social media can be a powerful tool, but for the moment, Azerbaijan has proven that given a certain set of circumstances, users can be controlled. If you want more details on the situation there, Sarah Kendzior and Katy Pearce provide a more scholarly account in a March 2012 article in the Journal of Communication, appropriately titled: “Networked Authoritarianism and Social Media in Azerbaijan.” As they see it, networked authoritarianism is the third stage of censorship, creating an illusion of transparency while undermining political dissent.

The first generation is characterized by widespread filtering and other attempts at direct censorship. These were rarely exclusively practiced in the former Soviet Republics (today’s Commonwealth of Independent States [CIS] countries). Second-generation controls involving the manipulation of law to regulate Internet content are used in the CIS countries. Specific tactics include redefining what is acceptable content within the national media space, and most notably for our purposes, ‘‘expanded use of defamation, slander, and ‘veracity’ laws, to deter bloggers and independent media from posting material critical of the government or specific government officials, however benignly (including humor)’’ (Deibert & Rohozinski, 2010, p. 25). Third-generation controls do not attempt to control Internet access, but to compete with it ‘‘through effective counter information campaigns that overwhelm, discredit, or demoralize opponents’’ (Deibert & Rohozinski, 2010, p. 27). 

Worth reading if you have a strong interest in social media and its relationship to political freedom.

Clockwise from top left: Azerbaijan Eurovision entrant Sabina Babayeva; Baku skyline; journalist Idrak Abbasov in hospital; police detain an opposition activist at a demonstration; Abbasov on the ground shortly after being assaulted; military parade in Baku last year; a park in central Baku; Engelbert Humperdinck; Ell and Nikki (centre), Azerbaijan's Eurovision winning entry from last year

Clockwise from top left: Azerbaijan Eurovision entrant Sabina Babayeva; Baku skyline; journalist Idrak Abbasov in hospital; police detain an opposition activist at a demonstration; Abbasov on the ground shortly after being assaulted; military parade in Baku last year; a park in central Baku; Engelbert Humperdinck; Ell and Nikki (centre), Azerbaijan's Eurovision winning entry from last year Image from the Daily Mail

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China Clamps Down on Social Networks

Beijing begins to clamp down on social media announcing that they will force users to register for the micro-blog service. From the Guardian:

China will expand real-name registration for microblog users, a senior propaganda official has said. Authorities have grown increasingly concerned about the speed with which information and allegations can spread on the Twitter-like services, which have more than 300m registered users in China.

Last month, the Beijing municipal government said users would have three months to register their real identities or face the consequences.

Comparison of Twitter and Sina Weibo

Comparison of Twitter and Sina Weibo from searchcowboys.com

According to Wang Chen, Minister of the State Council Information Office.

Microblogging is a new medium that can spread information rapidly and have a big influence. It covers a wide population and can mobilise people. . . . (However) we also need to control the spread of rumors undermining social stability; harmful, for example pornographic, information; and illegal conduct for commercial purposes.”

With over 300 million users, Sina Weibo now plays a significant role in Chinese media, particularly when it comes to public tragedies, such as last year’s high-speed train crash. It has a broader range of features than Twitter including information filters and a higher retweet ratio. One newspaper recently described social media services as “worse than cocaine” but the real issue for the Chinese government is that they want to maintain control over the public discourse. With rapid economic growth and and a population with rising expectations, they’re sitting on a time-bomb and the fuse is social networking.

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2011 Lacoste Elysée Prize – A Tale of Corporate Sponsorship and Censorship

In only its second year of existence, the 2011 Lacoste Elysée Prize provided some end of the year censorship drama in the art world. The French luxury goods brand Lacoste removed the Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour from the shortlist of nominees after initially funding her work for the 2011 award. Lacoste only said that Sansour’s work was not in keeping with the theme of the contest, “Joie de Vivre”, but the sudden withdrawal of the artist’s name fueled speculation that they were either opposed to her project, “Nation Estate,” on the lives of Palestinians, or thought it was too politically sensitive.

At first, the Musée de l’Elysée sided with the sponsor but quickly did an about-face and cancelled its agreement with Lacoste to host the €25,000 photography award. And then the details emerged as quoted in ArtInfo:

Having submitted preliminary sketches for her work to the committee in November, and having received a €4,000 working grant from Lacoste, Sansour says the news of her removal came as a complete surprise. This surprise was compounded by a request from the organizers, asking her to sign a statement saying that she withdrew from her nomination “in order to pursue other opportunities.” This she refused outright.

“The process with Lacoste is a strange one,” said Sansour. “As far as I am informed, [they] approved my nomination, despite — the museum told me — raising initial concerns as to my nomination. But over the phone last Wednesday the director of the Musée de l’Elysée told me: ‘Although the work is not directly anti-Israeli, it is too pro-Palestinian for Lacoste to support.’ Yet a joint statement from Lacoste and the museum issued earlier today stated that the reason for my dismissal was that ‘Nation Estate’ did not comply with the theme of the show. This despite the museum having explicitly given all artists carte blanche to interpret this theme and also directly encouraged irony. Also, there has been no mention of my work not complying with the theme at all prior to today’.

In an interview in Hyperallergic, the artist said:

This kind of situation is exactly what I fear. Money ranking over artistic freedom. The fact that a museum initially decides to follow their sponsor’s wish to eliminate an artist is a very scary development, and it is crucial to expose this kind of thing.

Indeed, it is, but there are other issues at play here. The reality is that in a digital world art has the potential to be provocative in ways artists could only imagine in their wildest dreams at the birth of Modern Art in the late 19th century and Modernism in the 1950′s. What once played out in the relatively hermetic confines of the art world – France and Western Europe for Impressionism, New York and Paris for the New York School – now has the potential to immediately engage any segment of the global community. That’s an incredible opportunity for artists, finally placing them on a world stage, and Sansour is a good example of this – an artist born in Jerusalem, studied in Copenhagen, London and New York who does work with political themes that spans video, photography, books and the Web. But this may well mean the end of corporate support – except for the broader (and “safe”) institutional support – fearing that provocative works will engender a reaction somewhere in the global community.

One of the photos in Sansour’s “Nation State” series:

Photo in Sansour's

Photo in Sansour

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Welcome Back: Libya Reconnects To The Internet (For A Moment)

Libya's New Flag

Libya's New Flag

In the midst of Qaddafi’s last days, Libya is coming back online as rebels and activists struggle to restore network connectivity to a war-torn country. There’s a good description on the blog at Renesys (which monitors Internet traffic and connections):

And early Sunday morning, the Twitterstream suddenly began reporting something that seemed, on the face of it, totally improbable: the Internet had been turned back on. 

Why would the government turn the Internet back on in the middle of an armed uprising? To get people to stay at home and catch up on five months of email? It seemed preposterous. But clearly, as more and more people realized, it had happened. Bandwidth was scarce, but DSL service was back. People started Skypeing with friends and relatives, some reporting hearing live gunfire in the background as their VoIP calls began to connect.

And then, as suddenly as it had come, Tripoli’s Internet access stopped working again. For a total of perhaps an hour and a half of uptime, spread out in bursts between the hours of 2:00am and 4:30am, local time, the Internet had been functional again. Who was responsible? Would it come back?

BBCNews: Aug 22 Traffic Spike

BBCNews: Aug 22 Traffic Spike

As it goes in the streets, with conflicting reports and the chaotic ebb and flow of urban warfare, so it goes with the Internet that has been on again, off again. According to the analysis at Renesys, the country’s Internet access is routed via 16 blocks of IP addresses through Libyan Telecom and Technology (LTT). Over the the past six months of conflict, access was cut off not at the border but at the last mile – DSL or other connections to LTT were shut down. As rebels poured into Tripoli, there was an effort to restore connections only to have LTT or someone shut everything down at the border. Possibly there is a struggle within the telecom, possibly intentional sabotage, or perhaps the fighting on the streets is blocking access.

There’s not enough information at the moment but one suspects connectivity will be restored shortly depending on how events play out in the capital.  Network access that we all so take for granted can be – and surely is on some of the streets in Tripoli – a matter of life or death.

 

Note to Readers: My own Internet access has been a little sketchy for the past few days (though nothing like the above). Back on track now, but this coming weekend and Labor Day will probably be slow in terms of posts, depending on the news flow and my travels.

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Chinese Media Protest Over Train Crash – A Letter To A Young Child

Economic Observer spread on train crash

Economic Observer Front Page

Remarkable, powerful, and moving – there’s no other way to describe this. While most Chinese newspapers buckled under the censorship edicts issued for the seventh day coverage of the train crash, the Economic Times refused and published an eight page spread on the disaster. The graphic on the front page drove the point home: the emblem of the Chinese Ministry of Railways superimposed over a photo of the crash.  Perhaps even more startling is the text underneath the image which takes the form of a letter written to the two-year old child, Xiang Weiyi, who was rescued some twenty hours after the accident. The rescue was rolled out as a public relations coup by the government but quickly backfired on the Sina Weibo social network site where it was seen as more evidence of government incompetence and the desire to cover-up the accident. Indeed, it was around this time after the accident that the railway employees at the crash site started burying equipment, fueling the perception that they had something to hide. For all one knew, they could have been burying victims with the destroyed equipment.

The letter is titled: “Yiyi, When You’ve Grown Up” and I’ll reproduce a portion of it here. You can read the full text on The China Realtime Report in the Wall Street Journal. Not surprisingly, the Journal is reporting in an update that the text has been removed from the Economic Observer’s Website. I’m sure that will be followed by removal of the staff responsible for the coverage as you just do not come across this in China’s mainstream media.

Yiyi, when you’ve grown up and started to understand this world, how should we explain to you everything that happened on July 23, 2011? That train that would never arrive, it took away 40 lives that loved and were loved, including your parents. When you’re grown, will we and this country we live in be able to honestly tell you about all the love and suffering, anger and doubts around us?

How do we tell you that, even as they’d declared there were no more signs of life in the wreckage and had started cleaning up the site, you were still there struggling in the crushed darkness. Do we tell you that, with the truth still far off in the distance, they buried the engine; that before any conclusions had been reached, the line that had given birth to this tragedy was declared open. They called your survival a miracle, but how do we explain it to you: When respect for life had been trampled, caring forgotten, responsibility cast aside, the fact that you fought to survive – what kind of miracle is this?

. . . . Now, Yiyi, on behalf of you lying there on that sickbed and those lives buried in the ground, people are refusing to give up on finding the truth. Truth cannot be buried – no one plans to give up the inquiry. We know that anything we take lightly today might lead to our rights being violated and our lives being ignored again tomorrow. We reap what we sow. If every fact we seek becomes a secret, we’ll never know the truth. If we keep giving up half way in our pursuit of dignity, we will never be treated with dignity.

To live – to live with dignity – is that rainbow you get to see only after suffering through the wind and the rain. Yiyi, when you’re older maybe you’ll realize that dark night of July 23 was when things started to change. After that day, we won’t simply complain, but instead learn how to advocate and act. We understand that we have rights, we respect these rights and are will spare no effort to protect them.

“. . . that dark night on July 23rd when things started to change” – one can only hope that this would be the case, that the crash and her recovery serves as a catalyst, a Rosa Parks moment if you will, for far more sweeping change, a “Chinese Spring” long desired and repeatedly postponed. The skeptic in me argues otherwise, argues that the sheer complexity of China’s traditions, society and economic development will soon force this quietly seep under the surface. And of course, there is never one single event that instigates change, but a confluence of dynamics that the one event draws upon if the time is ripe. Perhaps the time is not now, perhaps not this year, but soon, definitely soon if the sentiments expressed here are widely held.

 

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China Rail Coverage Update – News Ban On The 7th Day

People light candles at the scene of the fatal train collision in Wenzhou, east China's Zhejiang Province

Candles at site of fatal train collision in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province

In much of China, the death of a family member requires seven weeks of mourning (though I’m simplifying here as it is more complicated). Of this period, it is the “first seven” or the seventh day after death that is most important, the time when the soul of the loved one returns home before their journey onward. So as you might surmise, a number of families returned to the site of the high-speed train crash in Zhejiang Province to light candles and honor those who were lost in the tragedy. And many of the major newspapers were planning extensive coverage. The former happened as families gathered under the railway viaduct; but not surprisingly, the latter was squashed by the Chinese government at the last moment. Clearly, they have had enough of unfettered criticism inspired by the free-for-all online.

According to the Sunday Morning Post (subscription required – but free trial available), the order from the Publicity Department of the Communist Party said:

“After the serious rail traffic accident on July 23, overseas and domestic public opinions have become increasingly complicated . . . . All local media, including newspapers, magazines and websites, must rapidly cool down the reports of the incident. . . . [You] are not allowed to publish any reports or commentaries, except positive news or information released by the authorities.”

The end result according to France 24 was a hasty revision to the press runs – the China Business Journal scrapping eight pages of its newspaper, 21st Century Business Herald axing twelve, and the Beijing News cutting nine. Today’s issue of the People’s Daily Online has buried news of the crash down toward the bottom of the site with the focus on punishing those responsible. But as social networks increase their presence, they paradoxically increase the transparency of censorship efforts. A former reporter for the Party-run China Youth Daily, Lu Yuegang, who was recently fired for denouncing government controls said the following:

These crude censorship steps used to have some effect, but now the speed of the flow of information has surpassed them. On the contrary, the word about such restrictions simply deepens people’s distrust in government.”

This is the second time the Party has issued an order to curtail coverage of the crash and it remains to be seen how it will affect the ongoing discussion and criticisms on the social media networks. One thing is clear, the videos of grieving relatives are widely distributed and one assumes that they are also making the rounds in China.

China censorship protest image

China censorship protest image

The Chinese Media Project notes that July 29th was a “day of glory” for the Chinese press for their independent reporting on the event. But now that the government is clamping down again, social media is left to fill the void. Here’s just one example of an image posted on Sina Weibo as a protest against the official party line.

 

 

 

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China’s High-Speed Rail Crash And Social Media

china_train_crash_14.jpgNote: this post was updated July 28, 2011. . .

High-speed trains and high-speed social media – the dramatic increase in the speed of China’s trains over the past four years seems to be paralleled by an equivalent increase in the speed and use of social media to communicate and protest government actions within the country. China’s economy-on-steroids has lead to massive building projects including a high-speed rail network that went from zero kilometers of track and construction sites back in 2006 to 4,576 kilometers of high-speed lines and equipment by March of this year. And official plans are to have 16,000 kilometers in place and 2015.

But the accident last weekend involving two high-speed trains on a bridge that left 39 dead and 100′s injured has opened fissures in the carefully managed facade of a well-organized society with no room or tolerance for dissent. Remarkably, protest over the official pronouncements, the government’s handling of the event and charges of a cover-up have been all over the Twitter-like service Sina Weibo. A Wall Street Journal article yesterday noted that the crash has been the most discussed topic for three days in a row and the Party censors have yet to stifle the criticism.

The stakes are extremely high in this incident, with more than just domestic production at stake (perhaps the wired generation there realizes this?). The China Railway Construction Corp. has 2 billion dollars in export orders including portion of a line in Saudi Arabia between Mecca and Medina and a new line in Malaysia. The directness of the social media criticism is striking with people pointing out inconsistencies in the government’s information, charges of acover-up of evidence and the uproar over a young girl who was saved inside one of the train cars long after rescue efforts had been called off. Online, officials are being called out for their incompetence and the speeding train has become a metaphor for Chinese society as a whole. Moreover, members of the press are being influenced by the online discussion (no surprise there for those of watching the Media in the West). According to the China Media Project, this is what happened at a press conference yesterday:

When Wang (Wang Yongping (王勇平), the Ministry of Railways spokesman) was asked yesterday how it was possible that a five-year-old girl was found alive after officials had declared an end to the search and rescue, Wang responded: “That was a miracle . . . ” Shouts erupted among the reporters, “It is NOT a miracle! It is NOT a miracle!”

The Media Project also shares some of the propaganda directives leaked online (in itself, a radical enough act). Here’s a small portion of what the press was supposed to do officially:

On the Wenzhou train collision accident, various media must report information from the Ministry of Railways in a timely manner, media from various regions must not send reporters [to the scene] to report the story, and child papers and magazines as well as websites must especially be managed well . . .

Latest demands on the Wenzhou train collision accident: 1. Figures on the number of dead must follow numbers from authoritative departments; 2. Frequency of reports must not be too dense; 3.More reporting should be done on stories that are extremely moving, for example people donating blood and taxi drivers not accepting fares; 4. There must be no seeking after the causes [of the accident], rather, statements from authoritative departments must be followed; 5. No looking back and no commentary. . . .

From now on, the Wenzhou train accident should be reported along the theme of ‘major love in the face of major disaster’. No calling into doubt, no development [of further issues], no speculation, and no dissemination [of such things] on personal microblogs! . . .

The phrase is priceless: “and no dissemination . . . on personal microblogs!” Bloomberg News says the crash could be a turning point for the Chinese economy, forcing the government to slow the pace of growth. That may be, but if so China is changing faster than we realize, and social media may be both a symptom and part of the underlying dynamic driving the change.

 

July 28, 2011 Update  . . .

The New York Times ran a story today (July 28th) on the role of the Chinese blogging services in sharing the story and in countering the accounts in the official news media. A couple of interesting points:

  • The posts are limited to 140 characters but since many words in Chinese can be expressed in a single character, posts can convey much more content in comparison to Twitter.
  • 26 million messages have been posted on the tragedy. Sounds like a lot (and it’s probably a staggering number) but some comparison data would help.
  • Bloggers can comment on and forward the posts of other users – and add images and video attachments. The latter offers a quick way around censors as screen-shots of deleted posts can still be shared as file attachments. In other words, this is harder to stop than Twitter (which would be difficult enough to control).
  •  The government may be letting this happen so that it serves as a kind of social safety value, deflecting anger that could come out in more direct and threatening ways.
A comment: I find the last point very plausible but it still leads to one of two conclusions: either the government does not grasp the power of social media (which, by the way, I think they do), or they are finding themselves forced to let a relatively free dialogue flourish. If the latter, then they’ve pretty much decided to ride the back of tiger and it is entirely unclear how plan on keeping this check.

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China And The Web: Simultaneous Expansion/Contraction

Door to the Great Wall

News from China is that 1.3 million Websites were shut down in 2010, 41% of the total. According to a BBC report, which is sourcing its information from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, this is largely from a crackdown on pornography sites, though as we know, that’s only a small part of Chinese censors keep their eyes on. Indeed, in 2010 Google shut down its search service on the mainland and moved to Hong Kong after four years of controversial self-censorship, becoming the target of cyber-attacks, and finally opening its doors to the free flow of information for a few brief months.

On the other hand, the rapid growth in Internet use in China continues as the number of users expanded from 384 million in 2009 to 457 million in 2010. With a 34% penetration rate in the world’s most populous country, Chinese is now the second most common language on the Web with some 440 million users. So Websites are shut down – at the rate of 3,500 a day – while the number of users increases at a rate of 200,000 a day (yes, per day). You can only keep a lid on this for so long. That’s not to say everything works out fine in the end; the Chinese government limits freedom on many fronts (witness the Cisco project to blanket the city of Chongqing with high-end surveillance cameras, one of the largest projects of its kind in the world) but there is a underlying dynamic here working against control.

As you know, there are many battlegrounds around the globe over the Web and the degree to which it is open/closed. Some are more dramatic (Middle Eastern countries trying a temporary kill switch to undermine protest movements), others so thoroughly under the boot of tyranny (North Korea) that they can only be seen as future battlegrounds, but China stands out as the preeminent battleground of this decade. Yes, the censorship is tight, but users still work around it utilizing proxies, VPN and – what was my favorite – the Haystack software project (undertaken initially to assist the Iranian opposition party after the 2009 “elections” ) that buried prohibited text within streams of non-offensive data. Unfortunately the latter was shut down after not living up to its promises. If you know of other solutions in use, let me know.

 

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