When it comes to creatively curtailing privacy rights, China wins the prize hands down every time. Nary a news cycle comes and goes without some word of new a new Chinese clampdown on cyber freedom, so it comes as no surprise to learn of the latest Chinese government attempt at repression It seems to fit a pattern. Whenever China is making news for the wrong reasons- for example uprisings in one of the provinces, or economic turmoil or inequality, the government trots out a new repressive program to keep its citizens in the dark.
With the newswires chirping about the Chinese stock market meltdown, the time was ripe for a new government twist of the screw. It was only about a week ago we reported on a typical government reaction, sustained by a unanimous vote in their congress to restrict internet users.
We learn more from an authoritative report in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) highlighting other techniques used by Beijing to stifle speech and freedoms, especially on the Internet. The provocative piece reveals more about government tactics at what amounts to attempts, among other things, to “re-educating” bloggers about what they can and can’t write about.
According to the AFR, the methods employed by Beijing are quite crafty, albeit sinister. If it would completely kill-off social commentary on the web, that might foment civil unrest. Instead, it developed a platform for discourse, called WeChat, which it could control. And given the population of the most populous country on earth, it is small wonder that in a relatively short period of time it attracted half a billion users, and with a market cap of almost $200 billion, is the eighth largest tech company in the world!
WeChat is much more closed, by design, than the typical social media site, requiring more intimate knowledge of another subscriber before you can connect with them. This feature means that the information sharing flow is slower and more restricted- again by design, so that users are not able to seek out celebrities or opinion shapers. But in true Chinese fashion, not content with merely promoting restrictive platform, the government has resorted to arresting bloggers.
Perhaps most chilling is the description of bloggers who were summoned to a glorified re-education camp by the State Internet Information Department (the name alone is a turn-off) for a seminar on “Domestic Current Affairs”. Attendees were treated a lecture on “acceptable” topics for blogging – namely travel fashion and hotel reviews!
Sadly, bloggers, fearing for their safety, are toeing the government line in great numbers. With this result achieved, expect even more repression in the future. This is music to the ears of VPN companies, as more and more users turn to VPNs to get at the truth of what is really happening behind the Great Firewall. Are you getting all the content you want?