In order to prevent political upset, such as that in the Middle East, the Chinese government has cracked down on electronic communications. Phones, computers, and internet sites are now being monitored for words such as “protest” or “freedom” in any language. As soon as the word is detected, the electronic communication shuts down. In addition, Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube have been permanently shut down – although there are “government-friendly” alternatives set up. In addition, Google and Gmail have been severely restricted. Has the Chinese gone too far in invading people’s freedom or is their concern of riots a legitimate excuse?
Yes. It is a basic human right to be able to express oneself freely without fear of oppression by the government. The Chinese government is afraid of its own people, when the people should be the ones governing themselves. The international community should do what it can to support the Chinese people. China is very progressive and developed in so many ways, but unfortunately, it is oppression like this that will ultimately hinder China’s potential as a nation.
Not only does this type of behavior oppress the people of China, but it stifles expression and innovation. This will always result in hurting a country and it’s people.
It is definitely intrusive, but unfortunately it is a perfect example of what happens when a country does not respect the freedom of its people. China is a developed nation that is quite powerful, both politically and economically, but its constitution does not look like that of the U.S. While the U.S. government respects the freedom of the American people to speak their minds, other governments do not. The most unfortunate thing is that Americans can do nothing about a country like China’s repression of its people, because we have no power there. The best America can do is to try to be a model of a country whose government is not threatened by its citizens’ freedom of speech.
It’s interesting to note that this same issue came up just a few weeks ago with the London riots. People were using social networking sites to coordinate rioting and looting so the Prime Minister called to block access to them. To deal with the violence, the sites have offered up a plan to monitor the activity of their members themselves and then work with the police, rather than allowing the government to step in and have full control. There needs to be a balance between people’s freedoms and their safety and it seems like they may have found a way to make that work here. Obviously, these sites do need to be monitored, but by having it be done by a neutral third party, it keeps the government’s hands out of it. Legitimate threats can be dealt with, but at the same time, people can still have a venue to express themselves.
Intrusive. Freedom of expression and association are essential for the preservation of a free society. An automatic shut down of electronic communication that fails to comport with the ideological tenets of the national government goes beyond questionable censorship. It is downright oppression.
While there is an argument to be made that government censorship may be warranted in order to assure public safety as one might assert with respect to violent rioting, the resulting infringement on personal liberty far exceeds any public safety benefit. Additionally, China’s actions restrict not only violent, but also, peaceful protests. This benefits only those in power because is has absolutely no bearing on public safety.
It might be difficult for some to imagine U.S. government action (or government action by any western nation) equally as threatening to personal liberty as are China’s actions. However, governments of western nations have proposed internet censorship laws restrictive of free expression. Although not as restrictive as China’s internet censorship laws, the U.S. Senate has proposed the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act which would grant the U.S. attorney general the ability to shut down certain websites. In addition, in light of the U.K. riots, British Prime Minister David Cameron has proposed a social media ban premised on the danger presented by social networking websites when used as tools for organizing violent uprisings.
Even if safety is a legitimate justification for restricting personal freedom, legislators must reevaluate the consequences of these proposed laws. In so doing, perhaps they should consider the wise words of Benjamin Franklin, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Justified? Conceptually, freedom of speech is not meant to protect advocacy of illegal conduct, criminal incitements, or threats. During the UK riots, it quickly became clear that rioters were using social media platforms like twitter and facebook to stay one step ahead of the police. The effect was to create, insight, and perpetuate imminent lawless action. There is certainly a good argument to support the proposition that under the context and circumstances of the UK riots, the Government may permissibly override an individual’s presumption in favor of freedom in order to protect the important interests of its citizens (the “harm principle”) (see John Stuart Mill “On Liberty”).
This oppression is blatantly intrusive and will hinder the Chinese nation and its people. Public safety is China’s major defense to their censorship laws, but a potential threat of safety does not outweigh the freedom of expression of its people. Stifling speech is dangerous and creates resentment toward the government. Sadly, although liberty and free speech are of the most basic rights in the United States, citizens of other countries do not have what we take for granted every day. Social networking sites are a staple of the internet and will be for a very long time. How is the Chinese government going to keep up with all of the new developments of technology and the internet? Some day they will have to loosen the reins on such oppressive censorship.
Social media sites can certainly be used, as Peter suggests, for lawless action. The possibilities are endless as to what social media sites can accomplish. With one click, thousands can be reached through twitter, facebook and the like. These sites are easily tracked, traced, and people can be found, monitored and even prosecuted based on their actions. Even pictures uploaded to these sites carry information about a person’s whereabouts and activity. It is so important that people be careful as to what is posted for the world to see. Naturally, Governments will use this new type of social networking to capture and prosecute criminals; I do not necessarily think it a bad thing. However, when has it gone too far? I think what the Middle East and Chinese Governments are doing is a prime example of extreme control. They are not monitoring criminal activity, they are monitoring freedom of thought and ultimately trying to suppress freedom of thought by their people. This is a scary situation and a scary use of control.
The internet can be a dangerous place, there is no doubt about. Since its conception, it has been used for everything from stalking underage children to planning terrorist attacks. Nevertheless, the internet is a tool, and just like any tool its uses are only as good or a bad as the person wielding it. For every inappropriate use of the internet previously mentioned, there are countless other beneficial uses ranging from keeping families closer together to organizing peaceful protests. While the government of China may believe that limiting the internet will solve its problems, it will undoubtedly create even more problems. People need a way to express their feelings and connect on a global level so that those feelings can become reality. Moreover, if those feelings are hostile, it is important to note that limiting access to the internet will not stop this from happening, it will only hinder it. If people feel the need criticize and perhaps modify a government that they do not agree with, history shows us that people do not need the internet to organize. As such, instead of masking the problems, the better route would be to fix the source of the problem.
The Chinese have gone way too far in their quest to control and limit riots. It is important for members of any society to feel that they have the freedom to incite change and progress. The Chinese government has enforced restrictions on various forms of electronic communications to demonstrate that their people are confined to the system imposed by the government. The government may have done this to remind everyone who has ultimate control, but it hinders any type of growth the people of their country may desire. The government needs to find a balance between pubic safety and people’s freedom to communicate their ideas or the problem of possible rioting will always be there.
In addition, who’s to say that just because Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have been shut down these people will not find a way to rise against the government. Words such as “protest” and “freedom” are being monitored, but what about any sort of abbreviation or alternative word the potential rioters decide to use. The government may have slowed down the riot efforts, but people on a mission will not be permanently deterred when faced with adversity, they will just become more creative.
A few weeks ago, Prime Minister David Cameron entertained the idea of restricting activity and access to social media platforms, due to its alleged role in perpetrating illegal activities. After a lengthy discussion regarding the role of social media networks in the UK riots, the Prime Minister decided that the British Government will not seek additional powers in restricting social media interactions.
Data analysis of 2.5 million riot related tweets, sent between August 6 and August 17, question the assumption that Twitter and other social media networks played a widespread role in inciting violence. The “majority of surging social media traffic occurred after the first verified reports of incidents in an area,” suggesting that users were reacting to the riots- not inciting them (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/interactive/2011/aug/24/riots-twitter-traffic-interactive?CMP=twt_gu).
This is interesting data analysis, but does it miss the point? “Currently, communications networks that operate in the UK can be compelled to hand over individuals’ personal messages if police are able to show that they relate to criminal behaviour” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14657456). (See the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act “RIPA,” http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2000/23/section/21).
Curtailing the electronic communications of its people is just a practical evolution of the tactics oppressive regimes must employ to keep their people subservient. Before the internet, it was the banning of certain books, television programs, and radio stations. Only media that is supportive of the governemnt is allowed. To most of us living in the United States, this idea of banning certain forms of expression seems unthinkable, but to those from more oppressive areas of the world, perhaps it is something they have just come to accept. At this time in China most people will be unable to remember a time when “big brother” was not looking over their shoulder.
Perhaps the real turning point will be when modern technology makes it impossible for oppressive regimes to control the electronic expressions of their people. It is likely that in the near future there will be technology that the government is unable to control or put a stop to. At this point, many oppressive regimes may be forced to put an end to limiting their people’s expression. This would likely be a great thing for the international community, as oppressive regimes will be be forced to make concessions in light of the people’s new found freedoms.
Clearly, my colleagues who have commented on this blog thus far indicate that a majority of Americans believe that government censorship is oppressive and intrusive especially when Facebook and Twitter are involved. However, it must be stated that individuals who access these social networks on a daily basis represent this majority opinion.
The question still remains whether Chinese citizens believe this censorship is oppressive and/or intrusive, and not what the majority here believes. If we all lived in a country where it was the norm that our government suppresses and censors information, would we know what we are missing out on? Would we be curious or scared to know what is outside the “walls of China”? Americans have always been curious to know what exists beyond the U.S. borders. This is inherent in our guaranteed rights since birth.
But, when curiosity is not inspired, promoted or praised would we, as Chinese citizens, hold these same views? I clearly agree with my colleagues that the basic human rights of free speech and press cannot be justifiably oppressed in the U.S. unless there is a clear threat of national security or public policy. But, what is the consensus of Chinese citizens about the definition of intrusive? Americans agree that an entry into someone’s home without permission or a warrant is intrusive since we have a guaranteed right of privacy. However, wouldn’t the Chinese citizens have to be guaranteed our same rights in order for them to agree that government censorship is intrusive? Wouldn’t they need to value Facebook as much as we do? Maybe Chinese citizens would agree of the majority definition of intrusion if they ever had the opportunity to gain access to these cites.
The real concern is why China’s government is so afraid of political unrest. In its not to distant history China has been known internationally for certain oppressive and restrictive actions taken against its citizens, but it is likely that the oppression extends further than the Chinese government would want revealed. The restrictions on social media and the internet in China seems to be aimed more at preventing the exposure of any political unrest from spreading across the internet. If there are groups within the Chinese population that feel a strong enough need to organize a protest (worst yet, a riot), they will surely be able to do so without these social media. Riots and protests against political regimes have a history that far exceeds the history of the facebook, youtube, and twitter. A significant portion of the political unrest in the Middle East cited by China can be attributed to rioting. I just don’t see the connection between reducing riots and the like and restricting the social media. Riots generally occur when frustrated populations are ignited by some impulse. So…what exactly is it that China is trying to prevent, political unrest or exposure of its political oppression?