Friday, August 19, 2005

Who Needs a Nanny?

The invaluable China Digital Times has pulled together several articles that illustrate both the great lengths to which the Chinese government has gone in its attempts to control cyberspace and the surprisingly vigorous public debate that these efforts have provoked.

First comes a report from the pioneering Nanfang Daily (which those of you fluent in Chinese can read in its entirety) detailing the width, height and breadth of the Great Firewall:
"Since 1996, 14 bureaus and departments including the Central Propaganda Bureau, State Council Information Office, Public Security Bureau, Ministry of Culture, and the Administration of Press and Publications have all participated in managing the Internet. All together, they have issued close to 50 laws and regulations, creating the world's most abundant and comprehensive system of rules to manage the Internet?An expert who studies Internet law told a reporter from this paper that the effectiveness of our government's emphasis on Internet security and management, 'is very rare in the world.'"
Which I guess you could interpret as a criticism or further validation of China's unique historical circumstances...

According to Radio Free Asia, the Chinese government continues to strengthen and broaden its control of China's cyberspace. On top of recent requirements for Chinese bloggers to register their sites with the government, many universities are requiring that BBS users provide their real names in order to post, and residents of Shenzhen wishing to use instant messaging technology have also been ordered to have their real identities verified by the IM company providing the technology. The goal of all this?
"The sole purpose of the real-name registration system is to impose severe controls over public opinion in cyberspace and to further a surveillance society in China," U.S.-based dissident-turned-blogger Xiao Qiang said in a recent commentary broadcast by RFA.

Xiao said national security and propaganda departments had also trained a network of on-line "commentators" to manipulate public opinion as expressed in Internet forums, BBSs and message groups.

"On one hand, the Chinese government forces netizens to expose their real identities to facilitate government supervision, while on the other, it pays to train Party publicity personnel to hide their identities to fabricate false public opinion," he said...

...Zhou said the Web site registration requirement--now apparently being taken up by Tencent in Shenzhen--gave the government instant control over the relatively small number of its citizens who organized instant message groups, or QQs, or other on-line discussion media.

Self-censorship was the ultimate goal, he said.

"It means organizers have to scrutinize the speech themselves for fear of getting into trouble, because postings that are offensive to the authorities often appear on the QQ sites," he said.
But the Net Nanny's stifling hegemony is starting to chafe, and not just among fringe cyber-dissidents:
Liu Ze, an official at the Beijing Cultural Center who follows developments on Internet controls by the government, said he thought that compulsory real-name registration was going too far.

"I support or advocate certain appropriate restrictions. I advocate Internet real-name system but it should not be mandatory," Liu said.

Government attempts to censor the Web have drawn the strongest reaction from China's otherwise docile university students, many of whom were angered by the closure of high-profile BBS discussion boards like Beijing University's Yitahutu last year.

"There are many things to be exchanged, whether it is technology or other things," a university student in the northern coastal province of Shandong told RFA reporter Yan Ming.

"The Internet is an educational platform. Even though it does not affect us, we still feel uncomfortable [about real-name registration] because people have their privacy," the student said.
I don't really know if market liberalization leads to dem0cracy or not, or if it's true that Chinese people really don't value dem0cracy nearly as much as they do stability. But I have the sense that as China joins the world, as her people develop expectations of privacy and self-expression, that they will not be so willing to passively submit to the Net Nanny's smothering form of baby-sitting.

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