Sunday, January 6, 2008

China's Limited Internets

I just saw this article while at work yesterday, and as usual with online editorials from major news outlets, there isn't a whole lot of detail. I can sum up what's said in the entire article in only a few words: the Chinese government is going to filter online video websites (though the article, again, didn't specify whether they mean download-only 'sites or streaming .flv websites) for pornography, anti-China messages, and anything they happen to think is icky. Taken from the article,
Video that involves national secrets, hurts the reputation of China, disrupts social stability or promotes pornography will be banned. Providers must delete and report such content.
In other words, if someone disagrees with a Chinese policy, whether it be local, national, or international, and displays their opinions in a video blog or a comedic satire, they will be banned from the 'net. Alas, there will be no Chinese Daily Show! What's worse, this limits what the Chinese people hear or see, and their ability to learn the truth about their world. In fact, most Chinese nationals will probably hate the Japanese for their war crimes, but few of the Chinese people know of their apologies; these have been rejected unilaterally by the Chinese government before the people could hear them. Thus, the Chinese people believe the Japanese have never apologized, and hatred still brews between the two nations. But, that's the problem when you have state controlled media. The populace can only know what they are shown, and when people are not skeptical, they will believe anything they see. Thus, the Chinese government is entirely self-serving; they can do whatever they want so long as they do not lose control of the media or the army.

But then, the internet threatened to change this "balance" of power (about the same balance as a three year old on one side of a seesaw and a grizzly bear on the other). The Chinese people were exposed to the untamed wilderness of the web, and free information was at their fingertips. New opinions, not certified by their government, could be read and seen and heard by the Chinese people. If they learned just how oppressive their government is, they could start an uprising. Of course, the amount of internet users in China (about 164 million according to the first article cited) is only a small fraction of the population of the (truthfully) impoverished nation. Only about sixteen percent of the Chiense populace uses the internet, compared to the the United States, where the number of internet users is around 182 million, which is about two-thirds our population. So it will be easier to see a national ripple effect in the United States due to the internet than in China, where small communities that are isolated from the world and rely on state-run media only, are spread throughout the nation.

I also take issue with the Chinese government's fear of pornography and other threats to "social stability". Progress is not made within a socially stable nation. For instance, slavery in colonial and early United States history was socially stable and economically powerful. However, you could hardly call that a progressive society that would further develop the human race. Instability breeds progress. And pornography? People are hard-wired to be interested in sex. We almost all want it, almost all of us will have it, and almost all of us will enjoy it. So why are we so prudish about it? Religion, for one, teaches us to be ashamed of natural functions (like sex) and leads to very terrible situations when our natural urges build up as frustrations due to our continual denial (see child abuse in Colorado City, or read Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer). I can't tell you why the Chinese government hates sex, but they do.

Another huge problem I see with this issue, is whether or not the companies that run online video websites (I'm thinking mostly of Google here, one of my favorite corporations of all time!) will cave to the Chinese government. Let me rephrase that, to show some of the absurdity. Why should an AMERICAN company founded in a land in which one of the central tenets is FREE SPEECH cave to DEMANDS from a FOREIGN government to LIMIT FREE SPEECH? Furthermore, China would require that any Chinese citizen who posts something really "obscene" be reported! The government wants to hunt down its own citizens who speak up against them, or post a video of a naked woman! And they want American corporations to help them! If Google really is a non-evil corporation (which I believe) they will not bow to the will of the Chinese government. If they do, well, that is significantly evil. It may be a loss of revenue, but it's a stand for human rights and it will show the Chinese government that American corporations are not afraid, that we can be a strong beacon of free speech and free information.

The internet is this generation's wild frontier, a sometimes harsh and untamed land where people can make it big, make it small, or lose everything. More and more, government regulation is coming to the internet. This is not bad, however, so long as it does not trample on the basic rights of free speech and free transfer of information, and there will always be areas of the 'net that are dangerous and difficult to regulate, but as soon as governments clamp down on what we can and cannot say, the advantages of a global information exchange come to a very sudden and painful halt. So much for working together, for sharing experiences, for teaching a person in one corner of the globe that they feel the same things, share the same interests, as a person in another... The internet is the best, most interesting, and most dangerous sociological invention to come about since the printing press, let's do our best not to lose it to corrupt politicians, eh?

1 comment:

River said...

I totally agree with you. And I sincerely hope that google will not fall to the demands of the Chinese Government. I respect google--and I don't want that to change. Free Speech is definitely something worth protecting, and it definitely makes me sad that governments seem to want to destroy that freedom rather than embrace it.