“Sorry, this text has been deleted” – Internet Censorship in China

14 Mar

Internet Map

Background

Censorship is the process of suppressing and controlling information and ideas within a society (GILC, 2001). In this case, the society in question is the People’s Republic of China. Internet censorship is a specific branch of censorship as a whole, and it is the control of what can and cannot be viewed, accessed or published on the Internet (Rasheed, 2014).

The following list shows what is deemed illegal online within China (Beijing, 1998):

  1. Inciting to resist or break the Constitutional laws.
  2. Inciting to overthrow the government or the socialist system.
  3. Inciting division of the country.
  4. Inciting hatred or discrimination among nationalities or harming the unity of the nationalities.
  5. Making falsehoods or distorting the truth, destroying the order of society.
  6. Promoting feudal superstitions, sexually suggestive material, gambling, violence, murder.
  7. Terrorism or inciting others to criminal activity, openly insulting other people.
  8. Injuring the reputation of state organizations;
  9. Other activities against the Constitution, laws or administrative regulations.

History and Intention

The arrival of the Internet in China came in 1994, during the second wave China’s economic reforms. It was seen as a service that could help lead the country and it’s people into prosperity and greater levels of freedom and knowledge. However, it was evident that the party in leadership (the Communist Part of China) feared it would result in anti-governmental content inspiring reform and Cultural Revolution. In response, the Chinese government started to introduce methods to constrain what was available to the people of China.

The Chinese government defends the decision to enforce this on its people on the basis that they have the right to govern the Internet however they see fit as long as it takes place inside its borders. In a white paper the Chinese Government state that ‘Laws and regulations clearly prohibit the spread of information that contains content subverting state power, undermining national unity [or] infringing upon national honour and interests’ (China Govt., 2010).

When looking deeper into how the Chinese government approach internet censorship there seems to be a shift away from punishing general criticism of the government, ’Instead, we see that the censorship program is aimed at curtailing collective action by silencing comments that represent, reinforce, or spur social mobilisation, regardless of content. Censorship is oriented toward attempting to forestall collective activities that are occurring now or may occur in the future’ (King, Pan and Roberts, 2013).

The research carried out by G. King, J Pan and M Roberts developed a system that could analyse content on millions of social media posts before the Chinese government could remove them and then evaluated what the Government and it’s private censorship companies deemed as ‘illegal information’. From this research they seem to have found the Governments core intentions in relation to Internet censorship. That is, that they are wary of the people of China rising up against the government, and wary in particular of that being initiated online.

What are the negative effects of Censorship in China?

Firstly, censorship can curb and reduce the rise of innovation in the country (Bao, 2013); China is an extremely innovative nation, however if the amount of knowledge that they can receive from both inside and outside the country is curtailed then ultimately the level of innovation will be restricted. This could lead to Chinese companies being left behind in relation to companies who have greater information access. This has an effect on almost all enterprises to some extent and will therefore have an impact on the success of the Chinese economy, now and in future generations.

Secondly, censorship acts as a barrier to the truth and to change. This is especially important in regards to such issues as corruption, obvious violations of human rights and police brutality. If there is evidence of these actions that it is removed before people can view it then these actions will continue and change will not occur (Vitai, 2012).

The next issue is that of privacy, the government has the ability to monitor everyone’s actions online meaning individuals are always wary of what they are doing and talking about online. The final effect surrounds the isolation of the Chinese people. Due to censorship, it is hard for there to be comprehensive interaction between the people of China and the rest of the world (Vitai, 2012).

What are the positives effects of Censorship in China?

When you have a look at the guidelines for Internet use in China, although many are clear violations of individual’s freedom, some are inherently good and beneficial. In points four to seven there are elements that would make for a better society in all countries.  No Inciting hatred or discrimination, no distorting of the truth, no inciting of terrorist activity and no promotion of violence or murder, these are all good in and of themselves but the fact that people are wholly restricted from expressing themselves is the root of the problem.

The Censorship programme initiated potentially creates a safer environment for children in China (Vitai, 2012); it means that young people are far less likely to be exposed to offensive content such as pornography or violence. This could lead to fewer problems with violence and behavioural issues in young and developing children.

It also enables the Government to find a track down those who are spreading this offensive material, however, what the Chinese government do with them is another matter entirely. China is currently in hold of the most imprisoned journalists in the world (CPJ, 2013), along with thousands of other members of the public charged with the illegal spread of information.

In Relation to the UK’s Filtering Policy

When you look at the UK government’s plans for filtering we see a stark difference to that of the Chinese Government. The UK’s policy is designed to benefit individuals and society as a whole, whereas China’s policy is designed solely to protect and benefit the state’s autonomy and sovereignty.

Conclusion

There are many competing factors in the issue of censorship in China, and with the Chinese people becoming freer and freer in many other instances the stance of the Chinese government on Internet censorship is becoming out-dated and pressure is rising.

References:

Bao, B. (2013) How Internet Censorship Is Curbing Innovation in China, 22 April, [Online], Available: http://www.theatlantic.com/china/archive/2013/04/how-internet-censorship-is-curbing-innovation-in-china/275188/ [14 March 2014].

Beijing, U.S.E. (1998) New PRC Internet Regulation, 1 January, [Online], Available: https://www.fas.org/irp/world/china/netreg.htm [14 March 2014].

China Govt. (2010) Basic Principles and Practices of Internet Administration, 8 June, [Online], Available: http://www.china.org.cn/government/whitepaper/2010-06/08/content_20207983.htm [14 March 2014].

CPJ (2013) 2013 prison census, 1 December, [Online], Available: http://cpj.org/imprisoned/2013.php [14 March 2014].

GILC (2001) What is Censorship?, 1 February, [Online], Available: http://gilc.org/speech/osistudy/censorship/ [14 March 2014].

Hua, Y. (2014) The Censorship Pendulum, 14 February, [Online], Available: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/05/opinion/yu-hua-chinas-censorship-pendulum.html?ref=internetcensorship&_r=0 [14 March 2014].

King, G., Pan, J. and Roberts, M. (2013) ‘How Censorship in China Allows Government Criticism but Silences Collective Expression’, American Political Science Review, vol. 107, no. 02, May, pp. 326-343.

Rasheed, A. (2014) Top 10 Countries That Censor the Internet, 15 January, [Online], Available: http://www.thecountriesof.com/top-10-countries-that-censor-the-internet/ [14 March 2014].

Vitai, B. (2012) The Great Firewall of China: Pros and Cons, 9 February, [Online], Available: http://thegreatfirewallofchina.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/great-firewall-of-china-pros-and-cons.html [14 March 2014].

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