As in 1957, 1966 and 1989, Chinese intellectuals are feeling more or less the same fear as one does before an approaching mountain storm. The scariest [fear] of all is not being silenced or sent to prison; it is the sense of powerlessness and uncertainty about what comes next… It’s as if you are walking into a minefield blindfolded.
Hao Qun, as quoted in The Guardian. China Tries to Rein in Microbloggers.
The News, via The Guardian:
China has launched a new drive to tame its boisterous microblogging culture by closing influential accounts belonging to writers and intellectuals who have used them to highlight social injustice.
The strict censorship of mainstream media in China has made social media an essential forum for public debate, but authorities have shown increasing determination to control it. Previous campaigns have warned the public against spreading rumours – a theme that has recurred in this crackdown – and ordered users to register with their real names.
Now attention has turned to the country’s opinion formers. A recent commentary in the state-run Global Times newspaper warned that “Big Vs” – meaning verified accounts with millions of followers – had become “relay stations for online rumours” and accused them of “harming the dignity of the law”.
Somewhat Related: The South China Morning Post reports that the central government has ordered universities to stop teaching seven subjects, among them civil rights, press freedom and the communist party’s past mistakes.
Without advanced technology, authoritarian regimes would not be able to spy on their citizens. Reporters Without Borders has for the first time compiled a list of five “Corporate Enemies of the Internet,” five private sector companies that it regards as “digital era mercenaries” because they sell products that are used by authoritarian governments to commit violations of human rights and freedom of information. They are Gamma, Trovicor, Hacking Team, Amesys and Blue Coat…
…Their products have been or are being used to commit violations of human rights and freedom of information. If these companies decided to sell to authoritarian regimes, they must have known that their products could be used to spy on journalists, dissidents and netizens. If their digital surveillance products were sold to an authoritarian regime by an intermediary without their knowledge, their failure to keep track of the exports of their own software means they did not care if their technology was misused and did not care about the vulnerability of those who defend human rights.
In a study of 392 campus speech codes last year, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, where I work, found that 65 percent of the colleges had policies that in our view violated the Constitution’s guarantee of the right to free speech.
Take from those numbers what you will — universities are home to either smart, enlivened debate or misguided enthusiasm — but Lukianoff’s op-ed piece is worth a read. In the framing of his piece, university life looks a bit like micro-life. Which is what it should be but usually isn’t.
See one of his examples:
Civility is nice, but on college campuses it often takes on a bizarre meaning. In 2009, Yale banned students from making a T-shirt with an F. Scott Fitzgerald quotation — “I think of all Harvard men as sissies,” from his 1920 novel “This Side of Paradise” — to mock Harvard at their annual football game. The T-shirt was blocked after some gay and lesbian students argued that “sissies” amounted to a homophobic slur. “What purports to be humor by targeting a group through slurs is not acceptable,” said Mary Miller, a professor of art history and the dean of Yale College.
Where should freedom of speech begin and end when you are a web-based entity with a global audience? That’s the question raised by a couple of recent events, including the furor over a Reddit moderator’s creepy behavior, and now the news that Twitter has blocked an account for the first time at the request of a state government — in this case Germany, which asked the service to take action against a Twitter user posting neo-Nazi sentiments, something that is forbidden by the laws of that country. As the web and social tools become more mainstream, these kinds of battles over the limits that should apply to free speech are only going to become more frequent, but the solution to them remains elusive at best…
…Twitter has said that it will make its own judgments in such cases, as Google does — but what recourse do we have if they decide to do something we disagree with? More than anything, these kinds of cases reinforce how much influence private entities like Twitter and Google now have over what information we receive (or are able to distribute), and the responsibility that this power imposes on them.
Matthew Ingram, GigaOm. Twitter, Reddit and the battle over freedom of speech.
Important programming note as you think on this one: In the United States, at least and as Matthew points out, “free-speech protection is something that is only legally or constitutionally required of governments, not corporations.”
The internet and other social media are harder and harder to control. Smart propaganda people like they are, are going to keep finding ways to spin and doctor and frame the information that gets out. Sometimes this may include getting news out first in official media, or replacing blunt censorship with efforts to spin. But it doesn’t mean that the Party is lying down passively in front of an onslaught of free expression. And when it comes to topics that are deemed to be political threats — Tibet, Tiananmen, Falungong, multipartyism, certain issues in Party history, and things like that — then I see no prospect that the Party will change its policy of censorship and repression.
Andrew Nathan, professor of political science at Columbia University, to Index on Censorship. China will change leaders, but keep censorship.
The News: In the upcoming months China will hold its 18th Congress during which the communist party will appoint a new group of leaders. It has been expected that Xi Jinping will be become the country’s next president. However, there’s a growing mystery over where he actually is these days.