The Great Firewall

20 Feb

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Hundreds of Millions of people in China use the Internet every day, however the content of what they can see, post, and do is monitored closely by the authorities. The Great Firewall has been used to describe the level of control the communist Chinese Government has upon the internet within its borders. Duncan Clark, a chairman of BDA China, a consultancy firm in Beijing stated in a report to the BBC that “It’s a question of control – and the Chinese authorities like to keep close control of web content”.

The Chinese Government have long been interested in keeping information from the West out, and domestic information in and resultantly the Firewall has been used to block mainly Western sites such as Google, Facebook and Twitter. However the Firewall is also used to stop individuals or groups posting information about the government – a form of control by the communist authorities, used to reduce questions of leadership. A website forum administrator, who wished to be kept anonymous in a BBC report stated “If you say anything against the government we’ve got to delete it, no exception, because it’s a forum, it’s a public place. If the government finds anything against them in the forum, that will jeopardise the company.” The level of control the Chinese Government has over the internet has been queried from the international community, and yet despite this international unease, from December 2012 the rules have become even stricter. The new leadership have enforced rules that mean every internet user within China must identify themselves fully with service providers. Not only does this show that the Chinese Government views the internet as a threat, but it also can be used to further argue that the ‘Great Firewall’ is used by the Government to limit freedom of speech within the domestic Chinese population.

However despite the Governments ever growing fear and control over the use of the internet, the internet has been increasingly used within China, not only to access Western sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, but to also highlight social and political issues within the country via micro-blogging sites. The internet has been used as an orchestrator to organise mass protests, such as the anti-Japan protests in September 2012 and has, in recent months, exposed a number of corrupt Government officials. With ‘cracks’ in the Firewall and the constant spread of telecommunications as a result of Globalisation, to what extent, and for how long, can the Chinese Government exercise complete control over internet activity within its borders?

 

Sources:

China approves tighter rules on internet access – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-20857480

The Great Firewall of China – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/click_online/4587622.stm

Cracks in the Wall: Will China’s Great Firewall Backfire?- http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-17910953

State Secrets in China – http://hrichina.org/sites/default/files/oldsite/PDFs/State-Secrets-Report/HRIC_StateSecrets-Report.pdf

China Confirms Leadership Chang – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-20321603

Anti-Japan Protests erupt in dozens of Chinese cities in disputed islands row. Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/9545254/Anti-Japan-protests-erupt-in-dozens-of-Chinese-cities-in-disputed-islands-row.html

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2 Responses to “The Great Firewall”

  1. db7g09 March 28, 2013 at 8:37 pm #

    I found it astonishing the speed the to which China’s censors are blocking content at any given time. It takes minutes, according to a new study on the mechanics of censorship on China’s most popular microblogging site, Sina Weibo.

    Chinese Internet companies police their own content, Paul Mozur of Wall Street Journal explains, and Sina’s team of “editors” are at the heart of the world’s largest effort to control social media.
    The speed is astonishing considering that 70,000 messages are posted per minute on average, and the entire process can’t possibly be fully automated.

    The study authors, one independent researcher and four American computer scientists, tracked the fate of 2.38 million Weibo posts published between July and September 2012. The findings:

    • Deletions happen most heavily in the first hour
    • 5% of deletions happened in the first 8 minutes, and within 30 minutes, 30% of deletions were finished
    • 90% of deletions happen within the first 24 hours
    • 82% of deleted messages were reposts of earlier messages
    • Reposts are tracked down and deleted within 5 minutes
    • 300 of the 3,500 accounts tracked were deleted when a user repeatedly posted sensitive content

    This study also laid out some possible approaches. Censors probably refer to lists of sensitive terms and follow posters likely to say sensitive things. Most deleted posts contain code words to evade automatic keyword filtering; but as censors uncover fresh code words, they can use keyword searches to go back and delete them. In addition, Censorship happens 24-hours a day, but there’s a lull in the early morning hours and when the news comes on at 7 p.m.

    Previous work by the same team found that: “starting from the point where censorship begins, the frequency of the topic drops dramatically.” But as the BBC reports: if Weibo had insufficient controls, the government may take action; if their controls were too rigid, users would abandon them for their competitors.

    But there is more research to do. Like the researchers, I would like to know why some topics are censored and others not, is it politically sensitive? Or just paints a negative picture of China generally? I am also interested in the impact of the censorship. How much do the post deletions and other forms of censorship actually stymie conversation and free assembly? That is still an open question, and a very important one.

    Sources:

    Research conducted by Tao Zhu, David Phipps, Adman Pridge, Jedediah R Crandall and Dan S Wallach – ‘The Velocity of Censorship: High-Fidelity Detection of Microblog Post Deletions’ – http://arxiv.org/abs/1303.0597 – 4 March 2013 (accessed 28 March 2013).

    Caitlin Dewey – ‘How China censors 100 million tweets per day’ – http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/03/08/how-china-censors-100-million-tweets-per-day/ – 8 March 2013 (accessed 28 March 2013).

    Paul Mozur – ‘Just How Fast Are China’s Internet Censors? Very.’ –
    http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2013/03/08/just-how-fast-are-chinas-internet-censors-very-a-new-study-finds/ – 8 March 2013 (accessed 28 March 2013).

    BBC News – ‘The astonishing speed of Chinese censorship’ –
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-21743499 – 27 March 2013 (accessed 28 March 2013).

  2. jk10g11 May 15, 2013 at 10:41 pm #

    There are however cracks in ‘this great firewall of China’. Weibo is not directly comparable with twitter. Although the amount of characters is the same (140 characters are the maximum) a character in the Chinese language a word. This means that one Chinese tweet is equal to 3.5 American tweets. And there is a lot you can express in a paragraph. The Chinese weibo (which translated means micro-blog) is more like facebook than twitter. It has it’s one social sphere it is more like news than just headlines.

    Surely, the censorship is incredibly fast. But the writers are inventive and embrace more and more their freedom. The Chinese blogger Michael Anti delivered a very convincing talk about how China’s internet, or as he calls it the Chinanet and he makes a convincing case that the Chinese internet is despite censorship more than a desert.
    This is because the Chinese government allows sites like Weibo to exist. The Chinese strategy is block and copy. Weibo is not the only provider of a social network, there are numerous out there. The only difference is, the server is in China.
    This gives people the opportunity to socialise but still keeps the ultimate control in China’s hands.

    Even in this controlled space, even under censorship, something is stirring in China. In 2011 during the fatal train crash, it was through these microblog sites that the population got informed. There was a massive uproar, which arguably caused the disemployment of the Chinese Infrastructure minister in 2011.
    Even with censorship these website give 300 Million people the possibility to communicate, to chat, to share their lives.

    An additional point raised is that cencorship is a national thing, the sever is in the hands of the national government. However, the local government has in various cases their hands bound. So in fact, micro blogging has had a changing effect on the government on a local level.

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