BEIJING—Every day, it’s another announcement by the Chinese government about the draconian steps they’re taking to censor the internet, and the Western press laps it up like an all-you-can-eat buffet. In this seemingly endless cycle of “news,” one has to wonder just what the Chinese authorities are thinking, or if, like most governments these days, they too are caught up in the relentless demands of the new media, and are hopelessly addicted to the attention.
Where it will end, nobody knows. But one thing is clear; there is no end in sight. The Chinese government has become an official international media whore, which is kind of appropriate considering that prostitution is more or less the national pastime.
But so is censorship, and in that regard the Chinese government is using every arrow in its quiver to snuff out unfettered online and mobile communication among its citizens and between its citizens and the world. It’s even reaching out to impact Chinese speakers in other countries. In that regard, the government’s hubris knows no bounds.
I fully expect the Chinese to begin seeding networks with its own porn in order to catch unwitting viewers, if it isn’t doing this already. Such a move would make perfect sense in light of its recent campaign to pay people for information leading to the closure of adult websites and the arrest of those running them.
In fact, Monday’s “news” has to do with the Chinese government not only conspiring to terminate the mobile phone numbers of users found sexting, but also upping the monetary rewards it’s paying out to informants. (Details omitted; they don’t deserve it.) Well, good for them! That means it must be working, though one wonders what action by a communist regime could be more cynical on its face than the act of exchanging money for information. Apparently, the comrades need a tad more incentive than serving the national good.
Historically, of course, the Chinese kept their business to themselves, and have a wall to prove it. But the new global media tools have proven to be very effective in finding ways around any and all technical barriers erected by totalitarian governments, no matter where they are.
But the outcome of the ever-escalating attempts to control the free flow of unwanted content is by no means assured, even though many China watchers insist that the bold acts by China expose the fact that they may be winning battles, but are losing the war.
We are, actually, at a tipping point in history. Those of us who believe that information wants to be free—and will be free—are vested in the idea that the Chinese will fail, as will the Iranians and the Australians. But no such guarantee exists. Bad things do happen to entire populations, and sometimes not because of earthquakes but because of acts undertaken by their very own leaders. Indeed, as history has taught us, global recessions are fertile breeding grounds for greater repression under the guise of national security.
The irony for the Chinese is that their newfound love of the public announcement could backfire seriously on them, but only if the rest of us refuse to play along.