|By||http://e27.cohttp://e27.sg/2013/01/08/are-chinese-internet-service-providers-quietly-resisting-propaganda-and-censorship/||| Jan 8, 2013 | Asia|
China is famous not only for its cultural heritage and newfound economic power. While the country boasts of the biggest number of Internet and mobile users to date, the so-called “Great Firewall of China” is also enforced to filter and control the flow of information both within the country’s borders and across — a practice that authorities say is meant to prevent illegal activities and to enforce its jurisdiction within geographic borders.
For instance, in recent news, we have learned that China is now enforcing a real-name requirement for any person accessing the Internet. Propaganda authorities are also quick to order the deletion of any Internet posting, censoring of keywords — or banning of entire accounts altogether — when the information is deemed sensitive or illegal. Both users and service providers usually have no recourse but to comply. Some enterprising individuals would usually resort to workarounds, which can include the use of VPNs, code-words, encryption, and the like.
Is Sina deliberately delaying its censorship?
But what’s quite surprising at this point is that some service providers seem to be employing some delaying tactics in filtering or censoring content, giving time for the message to spread out before being removed from the source.
Global Voices Online has shared a translation of a purported leak from a Sina Weibo employee, which tries to explain the rationale behind the company’s deletion of posts and accounts. According to the poster, this practice stems from the need to find a balance between providing a medium for users to voice out, while also complying with state regulations for content filtering.
“We need [Sina] Weibo to deliver voices. But a hand is manipulating us. Someone is doomed to be sacrifice[d] in this game. We live in a country full of special and sensitive barriers and we have to operate within a set of rules.”
Interestingly enough, the supposed employee suggests that Sina may be intentionally letting erring content slip out into a wider readership before it eventually pulls the plug.
“You guys keep posting messages like machines … You can see the messages before they are deleted, right? You still have your account functioning, right? You are all experienced netizens, you know that the technology allows us to delete messages in a second. Please think carefully on this.”
There is no confirmation at this point, as how “genuine_Yu_Yang” is actually connected with Sina. But what’s clear at this point is that, indeed, information does get out to some extent, before being extinguished at the source. By then, the supposed “damage” would have been done. Content would have been re-tweeted or shared with tens of thousands of other users.
How should Internet-based businesses in China cope?
Service providers are in a difficult position, as Global Voices points out. Not only do enterprises have to think about delivering a good product and finding traction for their brand, they also need to go through painstaking efforts in ensuring they are not held liable for not enforcing adequate censorship measures. But of course, we know that adversity breeds innovation, and the absence of Facebook and Twitter in China, for one, has led to the popularity of home-grown services like Sina Weibo.
But looking at the bigger picture here, we may perhaps ask: will China ever tire of censoring the Internet in its home turf?
The bigger picture: information wants to be free
This was one of the main issues discussed in the contentious World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), in which the idea of tighter controls on Internet access was put on the table. Governments — such as China and Russia — wanted more control over the Internet, although a campaign backed by Google, Microsoft, and other major technology companies, as well as high-profile Internet personalities like Vint Cerf, have warned against the potential of such proposals to curtail Internet freedom, especially with regard to expression and flow of information.
The International Telecommunications Union, meanwhile, has argued that it only wants to ensure a level playing field, which is not dominated by companies in the U.S. “It is important to remember that when you talk of internet freedom, most people in the world cannot even access the internet. The internet is the rich world’s privilege and ITU wants to change that,” said ITU secretary general Dr. Hamadoun Touré.
The propaganda machine will remain in place in China. Tech in Asia is quite correct in pointing out that censorship practices are often successful in annoying users, and that perhaps businesses are complying with the letter, but not necessarily with the spirit, of the law when it comes to censorship.
Information wants to be free, after all. Could this be a sign that authorities in China are having difficulties controlling the flow of information, given the size of its Internet user base and the speed at which information spreads?
Featured Image Credits: VoA