Could it be that members of the American Congress believe that China’s internet censorship is now a good thing? Is it even possible that just a few years after coming down harshly on China for controlling her media, that America a nation who has prided herself for enforcing the freedom of expression is thinking twice?
With the recent reversal from legitimizing SOPA or the Stop Online Piracy Act, after websites and Internet Service Providers went into a virtual blackout, Chinese citizens are actually wondering if Beijing was ahead of its time in banning online content that was not in good taste. In fact more recently too, China also took stringent action towards protecting and further developing patented products. Further, with India taking severe action against 21 websites, including facebook and twitter for allowing users to post anti-governmental and fractionist views, Chinese citizen’s seem to believe that curbing or controlling the internet might not be such a bad idea if it is done for public good.
“The Great Firewall turns out to be a visionary product; the American government is trying to copy us,” one commentator wrote. A Chinese message making the rounds on Thursday said: “At last, the planet is becoming unified: We are ahead of the whole world, and the ‘American imperialists’ are racing to catch up.”
So if it seems that the only way forward is to control what people put up online, then where does one start? or more importantly where does one draw the line? Sure China has created her own versions of the popular social networking sites banned in the country a few years ago, so that’s not a solution to the problem. Chinese citizens still find ways of climbing over the Great Firewall of China and getting to the other side, for the nature of the beast is such – the internet can’t really be controlled.
In China itself, one can today access sites blocked by Beijing through a VPN connection or a virtual private network. Another way to access the net beyond Beijing’s limits is to use an alternative language, which has becoming increasingly popular now. The Mandarin language has four tones, as a result, each character sounds similar to at least four other characters. Smart netizens have developed a coded language wherein they can type different characters but when the words are said out loud they sound similar to the intended words. This double language has been in use for a while now and is often used to circumnavigate the censors as they don’t pick on the words due to their differing characters.
Still, the debate seems two-fold, the American debate stems from piracy, the Chinese live on piracy, they aren’t talking about blocking pirated content, but more sensitive content that could harm the populace. During the Olympic games, Beijing came down hard on piracy, to project a clean image of the country, the nation wiped itself clean of copies, fakes and look-alikes of everything from DVD’s to dolls. Sure the idea is to clean the internet, whatever be the intention, both China and America are giving the world-wide web a hard look and asking, how do we control this monster?
So maybe the Chinese are ahead of their time? It’s easy for us citizens to blame our governments for not creating clean, well-defined internet laws, but no country today can claim to totally block piracy and similarly no country can claim to totally control the internet. Until our internet laws mature and keep up with the times, all governments can do is to monitor the virtual world.