A glimmer of Internet freedom in China is quickly snuffed out

Seems the Great Firewall (GFW) had a breakdown.

For three and a half hours.

Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube users found they could have direct access to these usually blocked sites from midnight to 3:30 a.m. Monday, Jan 4. Alas it was not nationwide.

It was amazing how fast word spread of the breakdown.

I saw a notice on the Facebook page of a colleague in Hong Kong almost as soon as it happened.

Comments from China about the opening spread rapidly around the world.

One comment was telling:

Pretty funny that when Facebook, Twitter, etc actually do work for a scant few hours, that’s considered news in China.
Everywhere else, it’s just life as usual.
(I mean ‘funny’ as in sad and funny.)

The desire to spread news and comments seems unquenchable in China. Before mobile phones and the Internet, the main way to spread information among people who did not trust the Chinese media (as in everyone) was word of mouth. Rumors have always believed more than media reports. (Well, what do you expect? The media are controlled by the government so only “good” news is reported.)

Now with new technology comes new ways to communicate. And a new challenge to the Chinese censors.

Once Twitter started four years ago, the Chinese government was very nervous. And when these old men get nervous freedoms get trampled. The central government moved in early 2007 to shut down access to Twitter.

Almost immediately home-grown micro-blogging sites sprung up. But to make sure they did not run afoul of the government monitors, the site managers and site users engaged in massive self-censorship. So there is a lot of chatter about karaoke and flowers. But little about pollution, corruption or high prices — the type of discussion the party leadership wants to control.

And don’t even think of using the Internet to talk about political reform. Just ask Liu Xiabo about that.

And the funny thing is that the censors really don’t get it. To paraphrase Princess Leia to Darth Vader: “The more your tighten your grip the more people will slip between your fingers.”

Groups such as the Global Internet Freedom Consortium provide a technical way for people to bypass Internet censors. In China, savvy Internet users quickly learned how to use proxies to get around the GFW.

Likewise in Iran, the government has increased its monitoring of Internet sites.

Iran and China have the less than honorable distinction of being countries that most aggressively monitor the Internet.

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1 Comment

Filed under Censorship, China, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

One response to “A glimmer of Internet freedom in China is quickly snuffed out

  1. Pingback: China upgrades its journalists but not its control of journalism « Journalism, Journalists and the World

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