In recent years, China has been increasing their Internet censorship in major ways, bringing them to the forefront of the media spotlight. The government has been tightening their grip on information and content that is published online. This sample essay from a world class writer at Ultius explores the current internet censorship present in China as well as other places in the world.
Internet censorship in China
In modern China, anything, from online media outlets to personal social media accounts is fair game for government censorship. Violators of the strict laws and regulations regarding Internet speech can experience a wide array of consequences for their posts. China is not the only country that practices Internet censorship, though. Many countries have similar and sometimes stricter Internet censorship laws and practices, as well. Surprisingly, this kind of practice can also be found in the Western world, though to a lesser degree. Internet censorship around the world is a popular freedom of speech issue that is likely to remain as technology advances.
Concerns for Chinese web posters
A web user in China has to ask themselves a number of questions before they post something to the internet. They might consider, for example:
- Wow likely the post is to travel beyond its original posting
- Whether it does against government views and priorities
- Whether or not the post could be interpreted as a call to action
Usually, posts are approved and can be sent without incident 84-87% of the time (Wertime 2015). However, this is not the case all the time and certain posts can have vast consequences, ranging from having personal accounts blocked to actual jail time.
Heavy Chinese restrictions
A new report on Internet freedom released in 2015 ranked China last in the world for openness among countries studied. At the end of the year in 2014, the Chinse government introduced a counterterrorism law that would require all telecommunications companies and internet services to provide copies of encryption keys and backdoor access to the government (“Freedom on the Net” 2015). China’s restrictions range from strengthening its national firewall to block several internet providers of private networks to making some internet offences punishable by a prison sentence. In addition, the government strengthened their registration laws for:
- Online public forums
- Instant messaging
- Social networking sites
- Comment sections of websites (“Freedom on the Net” 2015).
Web attention brings unwanted scrutiny
There are certainly things that can gain an internet user in China more attention than others. For example, being internet-famous in China is not necessarily something to be desired. Well-known commenters on social media are much more likely to be scrutinized, censored, or jailed due to something they post and are therefore forced to put much more thought and planning into their comments. While posts that criticize the government are certainly targets for censorship and government attention, those that do not criticize the government can also be censored if they seem to contain a call to action. For example:
- Authorities censored posts in March of 2011 that spread the rumor that radiation poisoning from the production of nuclear power could be deterred by salt because it had led to a strain on the commodity nationwide.
- In March of 2015, Chinese authorities shut down a discussion on a documentary entitled Under the Dome that triggered a nationwide discussion about pollution (Wertime 2015).
However, small-time internet users who are not as wildly popular as other are often able to get away with posting more, as the government does not consider them or their influence to be a threat.
The Chinese government does not just find the offending posts themselves, though. They have set up watchdog sites that serve as a way for citizens to report each other. Web users can access the site in order to report any instances of ‘treason’ or speaking out against the government. By simply filling out a form, they can send the report directly to government authorities in order to help them censor offending posts. This allows citizens to do the government’s job for them and alerts them to possible trouble.
Chinese censorship under scrutiny
In the past year, the renewed interest in information control led to aggression against Internet freedom by the Chinese government. Google content and communication services were temporarily blocked and marked an escalation in censorship. Government agencies were found to have been falsifying digital security certificates for numerous webpages, including Google (“Freedom on the Net” 2015). This left countless users to those sites vulnerable to hacker attacks by those who replace webpages with unverified facsimiles with the intent of delivering malware and stealing personal information. In addition, it was discovered that there were massive cyber-attacks on businesses anticensorship websites in the United States by the Chinese government’s Great Firewall, their censorship apparatus.
The trial of Pu Zhiqiang
Individuals were imprisoned in China for their online speech during the trial coverage of well-known and renowned human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang. Zhiqiang was charged with inciting ethnic hatred and, ironically, picking quarrels on social media. Prosecutors built the case against him with almost thirty microblog posts by Zhiqiang in which he criticized China’s policies the ethnic minority Uighurs (Wong 2015). The charge of ‘picking quarrels’ has been the Chinese government’s tool in an anti-rumor campaign that aims to silent various kinds of internet speech. In the summer of 2015, the government proposed a new law on cybersecurity that would increase their power over internet activity. This would allow them to shut down the Internet throughout the country, similar to an incident in 2009 in which they only allowed access to a few official websites to one-sixth of China for over a year (Wong 2015). The law is still under discussion.
Internet censorship around the world
Internet censorship around the world varies greatly, depending on the place. China, though in the top ten, is not at the very top of the list. The number one most censored country is Eritea, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Only state media is given permission to disseminate news and the last accredited international correspondent was barred in 2007. The last privately owned media outlets were suspended in 2001 and their journalists were jailed and according to the United Nations International Telecommunication Union, less than 1% of the population goes online (“10 Most Censored Countries” 2015). Those that do have access can online use the Internet through slow and heavily censored dial-up connections.
North Korean censorship
North Korea is another country that practices extreme Internet censorship. The vast majority of information featured from the country’s dozen main newspapers, a score of periodicals, and broadcasters comes from the Korean Central News Agency, whose main focus is statements and activities of political leadership (“10 Most Censored Countries”). Only about 4% of the population has access to the Internet. While the majority of that percentage is the political elite, some schools and other state institutions have access to a few tightly controlled websites (“Top 10 Internet-censored countries” 2015). The government’s stranglehold also extends to all forms of media.
Saudi Arabian censorship
Another country with unusually strict Internet laws is Saudi Arabia. In 2011, the government made amendments to a press law that punished any media outlet, including online ones, from publishing anything that promoted foreign interests, harmed public order or national security, impinged on state interests, or contradicted sharia (“10 most censored countries” 2015). In early 2014, the Saudi Arabian government issued new anti-terrorism regulations and laws that:
“criminalized virtually any expression or association critical of the government and its understanding of Islam” (“10 most censored countries” 2015).
These new laws also granted the government permission is block almost a half million sites. Additionally in 2014, when more and more citizens started using YouTube to post videos to address many controversial issues within the country and issues not covered by the media, the government announced that they would monitor online and YouTube content from then on.
Censorship in other nations
Not all countries with Internet censorship are as extreme, but there are many countries with restrictions that are not so different from the ones above:
- India – The government attempted to get Facebook, Google, Twitter, and YouTube to screen for and remove material that might be considered offensive to political leaders or important religious figures (Flock 2012). However, the websites refused to do so.
- Syria – During the growing uprising, the government banned the iPhone an in attempt to stop the flow of images and videos that protestors were sharing online.
- Egypt – Bloggers are being arrested by their own government after speaking out negatively about the military leadership in Egypt (Flock 2012).
- Turkey – The government has blocked WordPress, YouTube, and other sites in an attempt to censor anything that could be considered insulting to ‘Turkishness’. In addition, they have almost one hundred and fifty words that are no longer allowed on the Internet, including ‘marriageable’, ‘gay’, and ‘escort’ (Flock 2012).
Censorship is not confined only to Eastern nations
Internet censorship is also becoming prevalent in the Western world. In 2012, a report released by Google stated that Western government appeared to be stepping up their efforts to censor Internet use. Senior policy analyst Dorothy Chou stated that this trend was rather alarming because the requests came from countries that we would not typically expect to be involved in Internet censorship (Sutter 2012). For example:
- Spain – internet regulators requested that Google remove almost three hundred search results that linked to sites references public figures like mayors and public prosecutors.
- Poland – a public institution requested that they remove links to a site that criticized it. Neither of the requests was complied with.
- United States – During the last half of 2011, agencies in the US asked Google to remove over six thousand pieces of online content from its search results, which was a 718% rise from the previous six months (Sutter 2012).
The rapid increase of incidences like these is both surprising and concerning.
It cannot be denied that China has strong Internet censorship laws. Some sites are restricted entirely, others are heavily scrutinized by government agencies and officials, and people can be sentenced to years in jail for the content that they publish on the internet. The government even has the authority to shut down Internet access for long periods of time to huge chunks of the country. In terms of Internet censorship, there is not much that they cannot do. Other countries have similarly strict censorship laws and others have laws that are even more restrictive. For example, some countries offer Internet access startlingly small percentages of their citizens and others have banned hundreds of words from being used on the Internet at all. What is most alarming, though, is that Western countries, like Spain, Poland, and the United States, are also beginning to delve into the messy world of Internet censorship. Though companies and websites often fight back, the idea that Western governments are beginning to attempt to censor their citizens’ Internet use raises questions about freedom of speech on the Internet in the future.
“10 Most Censored Countries”. Committee to Protect Journalists. CPJ, 2015. 20 Nov. 2015.
Flock, Elizabeth. “What Internet censorship looks like around the world”. The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 18 Jan. 2012. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.
“Freedom on the Net”. Rep. Freedom House, 2015. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.
Sutter, John D. “Google reports ‘alarming; rise in government censorship requests”. CNN. Cable News Network, 19 Jun. 2012. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.
“Top 10 Internet-censored countries”. USA Today. USA Today, 5 Feb. 2014. Web. 20 Nov. 215.
Wertime, David. “This Chart Explains Everything You Need to Know About Chinese Internet Censorship”. Foreign Policy. Foreign Policy, 20 Apr. 2015. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.
Wong, Edward. “China Ranks Last of 65 Nations in Internet Freedom”. The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 29 Oct. 2015. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.