Extreme Internet Censorship isolates a country
Internet censorship exists in varying degrees all over the world. In some countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, and a considerable number of Western European countries, it’s negligible and the government encourages the internet industry to self-regulate and also asks users themselves to use “filtering/blocking technologies’ to block objectionable content. In other words, the internet is not really policed by the government. But some countries like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, North Korea, China and Vietnam have a high degree of internet control by the government.
India falls somewhere inbetween
India isn’t immune to internet censorship. Certain pornographic sites have been blocked in the past and this continues to happen at regular intervals. Attempts have also been made to block sites which slander politicians, or sites run by groups which incite religious hatred, or those which publish politically sensitive material. Often these attempts are not successful. During the Kargil war the site of the Pakistani newspaper (Dawn) was blocked by vsnl (government owned internet gateway which was a monopoly at the time) but Rediff (a news site) published detailed instructions as to how one could bypass the filter and view the site!! Right now in India there are no established rules which a website needs to follow…the official banning of sites takes place in a very ad hoc manner and is often temporary. More often it is schools, universities and employers who impose restrictions on blogging or otherwise revealing information relating to their organisation. Overall though internet censorship in India is nominal.
Extreme internet censorship in China
Some countries ban all websites with specific keywords, China for example. Recently I discovered that my blog has been blocked in China. Well, WordPress itself has been blocked for some time, so I don’t know if my site was blocked alongwith WordPress or whether it happened for another reason. This blog was getting a regular stream of visitors from China at one time and you can see that from this clustermap – a screen shot taken in November 2007. Plenty of visitors from China.
That I continued to get visitors even into this year is evident from the next map. The red dots are larger.
This screenshot was taken yesterday [13th May 08] but while it’s clear that readers from China have increased…the cluster map shows cumulative visitors, so these visitors could have increased anytime after November 2007. I might not have got any visitors from China in the last month but this map will not show that…I will have to wait for another month or so and check if the dots have remained static. But I already know that nowadays no one from China visits my blog. I know this because of the whois map which tracks daily visitors to this site. For some time there have been no readers from China. Here’s the map:
Those blue stars at the bottom of the Chinese mainland are of Vietnam, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Another reason I am a hundred percent sure that my blog is blocked in China is that a blogger friend of mine from China has told me that he cannot access my site…and infact has said that all sites with the keyword Tibet have been blocked. In any case, it is estimated that “30,000 Chinese civil servants are monitoring Internet traffic and blocking content that is deemed undesirable. Typing in sensitive keywords such as ‘democracy’, ‘Falun Gong’ or ‘porno’ in a search engine results in an error message.”
The Chinese approve of internet control
But should we feel sympathy for the Chinese? A survey says that the over 85 percent of Chinese “approve of internet control and management.” Most Chinese believe the internet to be an “unreliable source of information” and think “much of internet content to be unsuitable for children.”
Now this seems incomprehensible to us Indians as people here protest vigorously against any kind of censorship. But Western analysts believe that the Chinese aren’t against policing of the net because over the last several years the Chinese media has been full of negative articles about the impact of the internet…and much of this negative publicity has focused on horror stories of lives being ruined by “slanderous articles” on the internet, of internet addicts living life in “military-like internet addiction rehabilitation centers” (online gaming is big in China), of online violence and pornography influencing criminal behavior, of online friendships ruining lives, of the evils of internet pornography and the risk of one’s personal and private information leaking out.
We all know that the internet is rife with dangers but the Chinese seem to be particularly wary of it. There is also a theory that China being a fairly child centric society (and that too families with just one child), there is a greater desire on the part of parents to protect their children from the perceived dangers of the internet. Mostly the internet users are the young urban Chinese but many parents are not internet savvy.
What seems a little surprising is that the Chinese don’t mind the government doing the policing for them. Guo Liang (who authored the 2007 research) is not surprised though. He says that the question Who should control the internet was a “rhetorical question anyway” as he knew the answer would be “the government”. Guo explains that since the only legitimate source of authority in many aspects of Chinese life is the state, Chinese citizens would naturally think that it’s the government which should control the internet.
But luckily, China (like India) is a land of contradictions. Despite censorship, China came neck to neck with the United States in the sheer number of internet users (210 million) in January this year and by now must have surpassed the U.S. Censorship or not, internet users in China will keep rising.
It’s a real pity though that because of the censorship, all of us are cut off from Chinese bloggers and the Chinese net population. That is the worst thing about this type of censorship. It isolates a country from the rest of the world. It prevents the Chinese from communicating with those from other countries and prevents them from being exposed to another word view.
(Photo is taken by me and is copyrighted)
Related Reading: More articles on China
The Internet makes our private lives public but most people don’t care
Top sites of the world – a comparison
A dark side of the Internet
Schools and universities in India wary of the internet