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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 @12:18PM (#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 @12:27PM (#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.

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

        by MozeeToby (1163751) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @12:37PM (#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.

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        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.

      • There are millions of people posting things, and they just get deleted wack-a-mole style if the content is not "harmonious".

        What I don't understand is the mindset of the army of censors the government must employ. It would be extremely difficult to find enough Americans to do that job without creating a sizable group trying to disrupt the system from the inside. Granted, we are pretty hard-core about our free speech and free press liberties compared to most nations outside of Scandinavia, but I just don't g

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by AndGodSed (968378)

      heck people have been imprisoned in China for less than what we do on /. every day.

    • You missed the engineering feat in the summary.

      "the pyramid branches out"

      Imagine. If the Egyptians had been able to do that, the pyramids might not be precisely pyramids!! Or, would they remain pyramids, with little branches supporting yet more pyramids? Hmmmm. Most interesting!

      • We call them fractals here.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Once again: if you want to poke a stick in the eye of Chinese internet censorship, on all of the web pages that you control, add in some terms from the List of words censored by search engines in the People's Republic of China [wikipedia.org] (preferably, post the Chinese characters, not the English transliterations.)

      Give the firewall some false positives.

  • by devnullkac (223246) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @12:29PM (#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 zero_out (1705074) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @01:15PM (#31846902)

      Who wins really depends on what you define as the goal. If you define the goal of censors as "preventing any undesired material from getting through" then they are doomed to failure. They would need to win every single time, squashing every single instance of material that they wish to block. The evaders would only need to get one piece of material past the censors to win.

      The real goal is much more complicated, and depends on critical mass of information being achieved for the evaders to win, while the censors need only prevent this critical mass from being achieved. It's much like childhood vaccinations. For the disease to win, it needs to reach critical mass in the herd, infecting a certain percentage of the population to become self-perpetuating. For the herd to win, it needs to prevent the disease from reaching critical mass. A few small pockets of individuals can be sacrificed for the greater good of the herd, but as long as those pockets are small and contained, critical mass won't be achieved, and a full-blown outbreak can be prevented.

      So what do you think the Chinese government's goal is? The blocking of every instance of undesired material from getting through, and "protecting" every single citizen? Or is it prevention of critical mass, which would mean that enough people learn the truth that they decide to overthrow the government?

  • by garyisabusyguy (732330) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @12:30PM (#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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by eldavojohn (898314) *

      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

      • >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. ....
        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

        Behold: Freenet [freenetproject.org]

  • Numbers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bakuun (976228) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @12:31PM (#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.
    • Re:Numbers (Score:5, Interesting)

      by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohnNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @12:52PM (#31846594) Journal

      "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.

      And 384 million of which are Internet users--nearly a quarter of the world total. The 'thousands' I was referring to are the people like Xiaomi who translate the content. Then thousands for each of those people post to their blogs. Then some undetermined chain goes into effect where they keep reposting and sending. It's immeasurable but this is just on the producing end of it. There's obviously a demand for this material so you can be sure that millions are reading these posts and reposts and e-mails. While we'll never be able to settle on whether it's 10 million or 100 million that have accessed a non-harmonious article in the past year, you can be sure it's in the millions for readership ... maybe even production and distribution have over a million.

      If you read the article (and I thought I made it clear in the summary with the pyramid analogy), it sounds like there are a lot of eyes on this stuff. Nothing to sneeze at like you did. In the end, the article made it seem like accessing the New York Times interview with Google cofounder Sergey Brin (in wihch he speaks out against China's censorship) was not that hard of a thing to do if you wanted to do it in China.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by MikeDaSpike (1196169)
      China
      Population: 1,325,639,982
      % of internet users: 22
      Number of internet users: 291,640,796

      United States
      Population: 307,006,550
      % of internet users: 72
      Number of internet users: 221,044,716

      In other words, despise having 4 times the population of the US, china only has less than 50% more internet users. Your perspective is skewed.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Reapman (740286)

      That's like saying nobody uses Microsoft Windows because only a few few hundred (thousand?) people built the software. It's typical that the content providers are a smaller group then the content consumers. People like Xiaomi are likely your "hardcore" group, the group that feels the strongest about it and which always makes up the smallest %.

      Most people consume media, not distribute it.

  • Cause and Effect (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jeng (926980) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @12:34PM (#31846388)

    Could the reason that China has so many cyber-criminals be a side-effect of the Great Firewall of China?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by robot256 (1635039)
      Hey, it almost sounds like an premeditated consequence. Like, hey, if we oppress most of the population into submission, those smart enough to fight back will figure stuff out that we can use on other people, or we could even hire them.
      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Salusa Secundus

    • Re:Cause and Effect (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @12:50PM (#31846570)
      I doubt it. The great firewall isn't something most "normal" netizens notice. Almost all the Chinese I know (been living here for 2 years) *only* access sites internal to China, so the great firewall doesn't even come into play (other forms of censorship such as government regulations over blogs and site ownership, self-censorship by sites, etc are evident).

      If I had to pinpoint a cause for all the crackers and pirates in China, I'd ascribe it to the general culture of lawlessness here. It's a culture that in many ways reminds me of wild west stories: for all the "big brother" scariness of the Chinese government, they honestly don't have a very strict control over the population in many ways. Examples: thousands of illegal golf courses that the government is unaware of (or which the local government is secretly sponsoring); food supply chain issues such as cancer-causing recycling of restaurant oil (called "swill oil") that the government seems unable to crack down on meaningfully, tainted milk, etc; secret gun factories that every once in a while are busted; people having a complete disregard for littering or traffic laws... This is a government that is unable or in some cases unwilling to crack down on many illegal and harmful practices.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by RAMMS+EIN (578166)

        ``This is a government that is unable or in some cases unwilling to crack down on many illegal and harmful practices.''

        That sounds a lot like a typical corrupt government, to me. I seem to recall corruption has been receiving quite some attention in official political statements in recent years. Any insights on how things are progressing there?

    • by warGod3 (198094)

      Yup.

      Kind of like how in the US we have so many drug criminals.

  • Cut them off (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jaysyn (203771)

    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:Cut them off (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @12:45PM (#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.

      • by bendodge (998616)

        Why the random bash on religion?

        • by Entropius (188861)

          Because religion is the cause of a great deal of dumbassery in the USA.

          • It isn't the cause, it's the vehicle. Some people are assholes. They would be assholes with or without a religion. Some people are willfully ignorant. They would be so without religion. Religion is a way for assholes to gain the support of and to control the willfully ignorant.

            • by Entropius (188861)

              Uncontrolled willfully ignorant are less harmful than the willfully ignorant under control of assholes.

  • by d474 (695126) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @12:41PM (#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 jcr (53032)

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

    -jcr

  • This is REAL censorship.

    Attention hard(er) (than me) righties and hard lefties, and whoever complains about the modding...quit complaining. Yes, there may be a few things to fight for, but we DON'T see this in America. People are NOT jailed for radically opposing views and speaking out. Simply having difficulty getting your message out, or not having people listen or care, is NOT censorship.
    • by Hatta (162192)

      Simply having difficulty getting your message out, or not having people listen or care, is NOT censorship.

      No, it's not censorship. But as a means of controlling public opinion, ignoring or marginalizing inconvenient information is just as effective if not more so. At least in China people know the state controlled media is state controlled. If there's any doubt as to the power of American propaganda look at the history of Cannabis prohibition. We're coming up 70 years of prohibiting this dangerous drug

  • by Neuroticwhine (1024687) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @01:14PM (#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 RAMMS+EIN (578166)

      ``i wonder if the additional reliance on your neighbor would create a tighter knit, more ready to challenge the government community.''

      I think this is the case, and it makes you wonder why governments engage in censorship. On the other hand, I don't think the Chinese government has a lot to fear at this point - there are lots and lots of chinese people who agree with any given policy of the government, and as long as economic growth stays high, I don't think the populace will massively decide to go slaughte

  • because it's on the interwebs!
  • These are the cheerful murderers we want to give control of routing and DNS to?!

  • /me furiously scribbles notes. -Cameron from Australia

"There are things that are so serious that you can only joke about them" - Heisenberg

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