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Censorship The Internet News Your Rights Online

A Detailed Dive Into China's Information Underground 65

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the censor-this dept.
eldavojohn writes "MIT's Tech Review has an article on the current state of Internet censorship in China. We've read the stories about Green Dam and the Great Firewall, but this article relates the story of one of the many ways around these tools and how they're little more than an added complexity to getting what you want from the Internet in China. The article starts out with an aliased user named Xiaomi who wakes up and utilizes Google Docs to collaborate with other Mandarin-English speakers so they can translate the day's news. Once it's there she makes it public and sends out a note on Twitter and Buzz to her followers, who copy the document to their blogs and link back to the public Google Document. The blogs survive for various lengths of time, but while they are up more people read and publish to their blogs, and the pyramid branches out." (Read more, below.)
The article explains the complicated chain of tools she employs to avoid being invited down to a police station to "drink tea" (interrogation and imprisonment). Although anonymous and unrewarded, Xiaomi's work is crucial to China. An MIT expert on China claims, "The Internet has empowered the Chinese people more than the combined effects of 30 years of [economic] growth, urbanization, exports, and investments by foreign firms." By the time all is said and done, Chinese censorship is little more than mocked by thousands of people like Xiaomi. The cofounder of Global Voices explains, "We assume censored means 'Dead. Lifeless. Artificial.' What 'censored' actually means is 'really, really complicated.'" Despite our dire view of Chinese censorship, the article presents comprehensive evidence of people not only avoiding it altogether but successfully anonymously working together to avoid it, as well as protests going viral on the Internet in China. On the Internet, where there's a will there's a way.
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A Detailed Dive Into China's Information Underground

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  • Brave People (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MozeeToby (1163751) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @11:18AM (#31846170)

    little more than an added complexity to getting what you want from the internet in China

    Basic communication shouldn't take heroic levels of bravery. People have been imprisoned in China for doing less than what she is doing.

  • Re:Brave People (Score:4, Insightful)

    by LS (57954) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @11:27AM (#31846300) Homepage

    As someone who's lived in Beijing for 5 years, it's not all that heroic. There are millions of people posting things, and they just get deleted wack-a-mole style if the content is not "harmonious". The only people that get arrested are serious critics of the government who get a lot of exposure. The average middle class person in Beijing is definitely more informed about a lot of things that your average American Fox viewer. Anyway they don't care too much about the smaller upper and middle classes - the firewall and the scare tactics are mainly targeted at the masses.

  • by devnullkac (223246) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @11:29AM (#31846318) Homepage

    On the internet, where there's a will there's a way.

    If you accept that postulate, I've got a corollary: On the internet, whoever has the strongest will gets his way. The "evade content censorship" goal has no inherent superiority over the "censor content" goal. Whichever goal has the most (or most potent) resources applied can still win out.

  • by garyisabusyguy (732330) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @11:30AM (#31846350)

    then you end up wiith better lock pickers.

    We might see some 'revolutionary' developments in collaboration come from this, hopefully we can all learn from it.

  • Numbers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bakuun (976228) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @11:31AM (#31846356)
    "By the time all is said and done, Chinese censorship is little more than mocked by thousands of people like Xiaomi"

    Now, let's put that number, "thousands", into perspective: China has a population of about 1.3 billion.
  • Cut them off (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jaysyn (203771) <jaysyn+slashdot@ ... m minus math_god> on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @11:35AM (#31846398) Homepage Journal

    The Internet has empowered the Chinese people more than the combined effects of 30 years of [economic] growth, urbanization, exports, and investments by foreign firms.

    This, along with their human rights violations & lack of good global citizenship sounds like a really good reason to cut them off to me.

  • Re:Brave People (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MozeeToby (1163751) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @11:37AM (#31846426)

    All that that means is that at any moment she could post the 'wrong' thing that generates lots of attention and find herself in trouble. The fact that it does happen sometimes is more than enough to make the behavior brave in my opinion, certainly braver than anything I've done with my life. And by the sound of it she is the source for a substantial amount of leaks through the firewall, just because it gets propagated through many different blogs and silently deleted doesn't mean that no one is looking for the source. Saying no one really gets harassed unless they get a large audience puts these people at the whim of their audience, what they're doing is dangerous because at any moment, without them changing anything at all, they could find themselves in very deep water.

  • by d474 (695126) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @11:41AM (#31846456)
    Sure, while people who have the expertise, time, and desire to circumvent "censorship" may just view censorship as a mere "complication", for the rest of the population who are work hard all day and lack both the energy and prowess and are afraid of being arrested, it's still censorship.

    And it's more than just censorship, it's stuff that fills the void of truth like propaganda and disinformation. Just mix it all together and you have most of the populace which is misinformed and under, for lack of better terms, a soft form of mind control.
  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @11:43AM (#31846486) Journal

    then you end up wiith better lock pickers.

    We might see some 'revolutionary' developments in collaboration come from this, hopefully we can all learn from it.

    The problem is that we're all using the same tools to achieve different goals. I use Google Docs to share song names and artists that I like with my friends simply because all the other site solutions (like Last.FM) are flash laden crap that I have no control over and never can find the bands I listen to like The Wapsipinicon. And I can throw a link to a blog with a publicly legally available promotional mp3. So the Chinese goal is a lot more serious and has this oppressive government forcing them to be anonymous. Me, I trust people to view and help edit my spreadsheet. My friends know who I am and we're pass the anonymous stage. Our revolutionary collaboration is going to be done with various levels of contribution, reputation, trust and background knowledge or technology wise (what if I could build mix CD song lists in tandem with friends through a site and publish it to facebook?). All the Chinese have is anonymity because of their different situation and they are dealing with words and information. The advancements they find are stunted by their situation.

    So unless our government gets to be as bad as theirs (and I'm not saying that's out of the question), I don't know what tactics they are dreaming up that are going to help me right now or improve my collaboration. And they don't seem to be writing a whole lot of ground breaking software ... at least not for English speaking only users like myself. I'm not complaining, I'm just confused how I'm going to learn from this aside from maintaining an underground if I need it which -- thank god -- I don't. But perhaps the future holds a RIAA stasi that finds people like me transmitting information about non-RIAA bands and dispatches death squads to my door ...

  • Re:Cut them off (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @11:45AM (#31846508)

    It's their government that's fucked up. Not the people. The people (for the most part) are great.

    If you really step back and examine it, America and most other countries are basically in the same situation at varying degrees of fucked-upedness. It's the vocal minority, or in religious circles, the vocal majority, and the governments in power that are totally fucked.

    Overall, you'll find people are good. It's the politicians and those in power that are total douche-bags.

  • Re:Brave People (Score:1, Insightful)

    by hypergreatthing (254983) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @11:54AM (#31846608)

    The average middle class person in Beijing is definitely more informed about a lot of things that your average American Fox viewer.

    Ahh, ok i get it. So the average Beijing person is definitely more educated than Homeless Americans too right? Or do you just like comparing apples to oranges. I'd say the average American isn't a fox news viewer or subscribes to their Jerry springer style sensationalist shows.

  • by jcr (53032) <jcr.mac@com> on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @11:58AM (#31846648) Journal

    "The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it." ... even in a country under the control of the Red Dynasty.

    -jcr

  • by Neuroticwhine (1024687) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @12:14PM (#31846886)
    You have to wonder how this is changing the psychology of the standard citizen. The more people need to rely on each other to circumvent the government restrictions, the less strength the government itself has as a controlling body; ironically enough, i wonder if the additional reliance on your neighbor would create a tighter knit, more ready to challenge the government community.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @01:08PM (#31847632)

    Salusa Secundus

  • by zero_out (1705074) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @01:37PM (#31847994)
    As long as people have their bread and circuses, they will be content. The Roman Empire figured that out a long time ago, and it's still true today.

"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro..." -- Hunter S. Thompson

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