The Great Firewall: longer, higher, meaner

Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and more: all blocked in China

Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and more: all blocked in China

The already unfortunate situation of internet censorship in China – imposed by the so-called Great Firewall – has been slowly getting worse this year, making a mockery of claims that the Olympics would open up China in terms of allowing a greater spread of communication and discussion. This year the Great Firewall has metamorphosed from a paranoid bug into a malignant disease, a raging cancer, blighting creativity, free speech and the flow of ideas.

Just a few months ago I posted here on Lost Laowai about China’s massive web-filtering system, and how it was becoming distinctly anti-social in that it was targeting social-networking and web 2.0 sites, such as Facebook and YouTube, which are characterised by allowing a fast flow of information and ideas.

Bad news: that’s getting worse, and this time there’s no identifiable reason. Usually, a wave of tightening-up on the internet by the Chinese government comes immediately after some particular incident; we saw it right after the troubles in Tibet, then again in Xinjiang, and recurring at sensitive anniversaries. But, this summer, no clear justification for new blockages – it just seems to be malicious, and that makes it more sinister.

So, to add to lengthy list of blocked websites from earlier this summer (see the footnote, at the end of this post) we must now add a few more:

Vimeo
Friendfeed
Bit.ly (URL shortening service)
Post.ly (URL shortening service)
Blip.tv
Yahoo Meme
Google Documents (accessible again)
Fileden.com
iTweet.net (a twitter web app)
Twitzap (a twitter web app)
Dabr.co.uk (a twitter web app)
TwitterGadget (a tiny twitter app on iGoogle)

The situation really is getting ridiculous. A few other ways to access twitter still exist, thankfully. Just this afternoon one China-based expat on twitter commented that “China no longer has internet. It has LAN” (h/t @illuminantceo), which is an apt description of how insular and freaky it’s getting.

It’s not just an inconvenience to laowais, remember. Such a crackdown has economic repercussions for everyone in the country, as well as drastically stifling creativity and the sharing of ideas (those last two, obviously, are actual aims of the Chinese government who implement the Great Firewall). It’s impossible to quantify the economic damage done by this web-filtering, and it might even amount to quite little, but undeniably it costs a lot of companies extra time and frustration, and limits some companies in dealing with foreign clients and partners.

So, this second major wave of censorship is clearly aimed at slowing or stopping the flow of information and ideas. It’s visible, too, in the Chinese webosphere, where severe Terms of Service on websites or constant filtering of content means that ‘sensitive’ material is spotted and deleted (and the account removed) possibly within an hour of offending content being posted. Try putting up a sensitive video on Tudou or Youku, and see how long it lasts. Thus, Chinese websites don’t get blocked, as such, as there’s already that two-pronged devils fork of enforced compliance.

Foreign-based websites cannot be similarly coerced, so they just get blocked.

Even Virtual Private Networks are under stronger attack, as detailed quite recently by Rebecca Mackinnon (requires a proxy or VPN to access inside China).

Anger is clearly mounting over this. Right now, on twitter – despite there being fewer ways to access it – I can clearly see hundreds of tweets regarding the Great Firewall – labelled as #gfw and #fuckgfw – by younger tech-savvy Chinese people detailing sites that have been newly whisked away into purgatory, and also expressing a hell of a lot of anger aimed at the web-filtering system and the government in Beijing as well.

Just a few days ago, at the World Media Summit which was this year hosted in Beijing, China’s President Hu Jintao suggested “cooperation, action, win-win, and development,” in the realms of all world media, and called for “monitoring by the public and the safeguarding of the rights to be informed, to participation, to expression…..and their important functions put into play,” to an audience that included News Corporation CEO, Rupert Murdoch. If you’ve managed to avoid vomiting after such a display of hypocrisy, then you have a stronger stomach than I.

From where I’m standing, the Chinese government is failing its people with such extensive censorship; there’s a massive disparity between the kindness, good-natured openness and eagerness to learn of the Chinese people, and the paranoid, low-down, two-faced, narrow-minded bigotry of the Chinese government.

I’m ordinarily against intervention by foreign governments, but right now I’d love to see President Obama and some European leaders stand up – in the manner of John F. Kennedy Ronald Reagan on the Berlin Wall – and say “Tear down this Firewall.”

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Footnote:

Here’s my previous block-list, from July 31st this year. All sites mentioned below except ‘blog.com’ seem to still be blocked.

Facebook
twitter
YouTube
Blogger blogs
Wordpress free blogs
Typepad blogs
Blog.com blogs
Opera blogs
Tumblr
LiveLeak
Google’s Picasa Web Albums (log-in accessible, but borked thereafter)
Google Image search results (very frequent re-set connections)
Orkut
Bebo