Internet use and freedom

Earlier this week InventorSpot had an article on the issues facing companies using social media to target certain countries. (Social Media Strategy Targeting China, Japan, India & Brazil)

It linked to the June 2010 Internet World Stats report that showed a country by country break down of Internet use.

Not surprisingly China is #1 with 420 million Internet users, accounting for 21.4% of the world’s Internet users. Then comes the United States with 12% of world users, Japan at 55, India at 4.1% and Brazil at 3.9%.

The article also noted that before starting an online marketing campaign, the first thing a marketer needs to know are the censorship laws.

A grasp of censorship and state control issues in countries such as China need to be understood fully. Prohibited words, sensitive political issues and acceptable topics should be reviewed and curtailed in one’s communication.

This got me thinking about the Internet, its potential and how few people really get a chance to use that potential.

Let’s look at China. (Such an easy target.)

It has 420 million Internet users. That is more than the entire population of the United States and only 80 million short of the number of Facebook users in the world. We also know that Chinese Internet users are not adding to Facebook because — wait for it — Facebook is blocked in China.  As is Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. (To be clear, this is mainland China. Not Hong Kong or Taiwan. And, yes, people are able to work around the blocks but not easily.)

In fact, according to the OpenNet Initiative, China engages in pervasive and consistent filtering.

And China is always near the bottom in any objective survey when it comes to press freedom or other freedoms.

So, China has the most Internet users but are they getting the whole benefit of that use?

The answer really has to be in the negative.

Seeing the degree of censorship and number of people using the Internet in China reminds me of how some people would praise Cuba for achieving nearly 100 percent literacy but not see the irony that the people in that island nation are only allowed to read what the government allows.

As I told my journalism students over and over: “Context matters.”

Yes, it does matter that 420 million Chinese have access to the Internet. But it also matters that this is not the same Internet that folks in the United States, Japan, India or Brazil enjoy. It is a carefully monitored and controlled medium.

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Filed under Asia, Connections, Freedom of access, Freedom of Information, Press Freedom

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