In the Republic of China there are approx. 650 million Internet users, of which 86 % mobile. This is probably the largest online population on the planet, and all network functions within China, including education, digital business and social media do fine and flourish. However, foreign companies are discouraged or even downright blocked from doing online business in China. This is probably not due to feelings of nationalism, pride and xenophobia but has party political motives.
1. Outside China the blockade is called the “Chinese Firewall” and makes nearly impossible to use (transborder) for instance Gmail, Google Scholar, Google Docs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Flickr. Expats, scientists and others who work on a worldwide scale have trouble with this ‘golden cage’ where Baidu, Alibaba and other Chinese network services work fantastic but only inside China.
Added to this is the daily work of an army of maybe as many as 250,000 censors who can very quickly after articles are posted on the Web can take them down or make them inaccessible, if the CONTENT disagrees with the government and/or the Communist Party. This censoring applies to anything done on internet and goes way beyond what people suppress themselves by self-censorship.
There are a number of universal freedoms and human rights violated by this huge censorship effort. I have great respect for those individuals who dared to protest against this harmful and evil continuous attack on Internet Freedom. Many other countries are trying to surveil, control or even throttle the free flows of information when their central national governance power is felt to be threatened, see: http://securitygladiators.com/2015/02/14/internet-freedom-enemies-china-russia-us-others/ . This shows efforts of resistance the unstoppable decline of the “Old Powers”, is very bad, very uncivilised and harmful to lives and cooperative wealth generation possibilities of the New Power generations of young people who must be enabled to give us all a future.
2. If we however zoom in to what is really happening within China it turns out that not everything on internet is suppressed. Sure porno is, because it is considered to be bad & immoral. Porno is supposed to break up social and family ties. The party knows what is good for the people, right? Many American government authorities and businesses try to ban, censor or avoid porno too, with the interesting result that the porno business is one of the biggest and most moneymaking segments of the US economy. If real measurements are made, and Gary King and his team at Harvard did, it turns out that “speech’ on the Chinese Internet is remarkably free, vibrant and raucious !! This conflicts with the current media expression of the Chinese aspiration to build a modern economy “but with an authoritarian regime that suppresses and fears the freedom of speech and democracy, necessary for progress and prosperity”. A very clear article about what Gary King found can be found in the must-read article in The Guardian : http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/14/truth-behind-great-firewall-of-china-headlines
a. King’s paper is online at: http://gking.harvard.edu/publications/randomized-experimental-study-censorship-china , click on ‘publisher’s version’ to download the abstract of the article and/or click on the ‘article in science’ about this research. Or download the full article from: http://gking.harvard.edu/files/gking/files/experiment_0.pdf
b. And he has a must-see lecture on Youtube about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hybtm4Fp1jc
They measured how fast, and what, articles where taken down after they where posted online in China. What the research team found was that the censors did was more subtle than suppressing free speech, they are suppressing and take down anything that can give people an urge and incite physical movement to assemble in groups. Every content is censored if it pertains to possible real-world events with collective actions, and social movement. So they do not per-se suppress criticism, rebellious utterances, protects. They clip only those on-line social ties that would bring people together into non sanctioned and non party controlled mobs. Even if it concerns praise of the govenment! So, as John Naughton in the Guardian article cited above, wrote: “The Chinese Internet is in the view of the government authorities an information system that enables the ‘governance system’ TO KEEP A LID ON THINGS”, maintain stability and prevent any revolt or unsanctioned change at all cost. So the censors fear sudden surges of social mobilisation.
Sounds familiar, right? Do we like the sudden mobs of football hooligans? No !! Old men in power invariably insist on doing that: keeping the lid on things. They hate human “emergent behavior” even when it is part part of LIFE and the motor behind culture and prosperity. IMHO this is in violation of the Rights to Assemble and Association, Human Rights maybe even more vital for value creation and prosperity than the Free Speech HR’s.
3. HOW is it done by the 250,000 strong army of Chinese censors:
a. by DNS poisoning http://www.forbes.com/sites/thomasbrewster/2015/01/26/china-great-firewall-causing-ddos-attacks/ One of the several side-effects of this DNS re-routing internet though central filters is that the internet performance is slowed down to a crawl, which hampers work in small start-ups.
b. by disrupting VPN’s http://www.forbes.com/sites/gordonchang/2015/01/25/china-attacks-vpns-cutting-business-off-from-internet/ This blocks traffic or makes internet dysfunction, also obstructing business development.
4. Will China be successful in this huge effort? My guess is that they will not, since this central control over the nation, even if it is enacted and enforced localy, will turn out to be too slow in the Internet age which works at the speed of light through mobile and optical fiber links. And the last thing the upcoming and educated middle classes want is to be slowed down and cut off from idea’s and life improvements elsewhere in the world, which involve the formation of #Synthecracy collective intelligence swarms which can and will cross any borders.
jaap van till, the connectivist
PS1. Interesting to note that about 20 seconds after I posted this blog, I got a tweet from “China Manufacturing” @ChinaSourc (http://sourcing-china.co/) if I could post their business opportunities site in my blogs: http://sourcing-china.co/manufacturer/members#hello Done 🙂
PS2. If “stability” is the primary concern of the Chinese government and local authorities, I can recommend them to study the role of ‘weak links’, people who can make connections between tribes/ families/ communities with different cultures. Sociologist Granovetter has discovered the constructive intermediary role of such persons (1973) and Peter Csermely wrote an important book about its appearance all over nature: http://www.springer.com/gp/book/9783540311515 I introduced these persons under another name which sounds less weak: Btwieners https://theconnectivist.wordpress.com/2014/11/08/slides-of-my-social-networking-masterclass-workshop-at-osdc2014/
Btwieners are a special kind of networkers, they provide stability in society, a Gandalf kind of wizzards. My advice is: *** If you want to maintain and establish stability, do not use suppression with force, but respect and support Btwieners !!!***