Donnie Dong (Hao Dong), a Berkman Fellow, is giving a Berkman Tuesday lunchtime talk.
NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.
Donnie begins by asking us to play “spot the difference”: Google’s homepage on March 14 (3.14 — the Google pi logo) and Google.cn (Google’s Chinese home page) on that day. Besides not having the pi logo, the link to gmail is missing on China.cn, there’s no sign-in link, therte’s a link to tianya.cn, and the Chinese version has an official government ICP license number.
Tiany.cn is a massively popular social network. At the hot topics in the forums, there can be millions visitors and millions replies. (Donnie shows one topic that has over 4 million replies, and it was only posted in February of this year.) There are hundreds of boards and board masters, organizationally structured in a way similar to the Chinese government: A secretary general, branching powers, judges, appeals judges, etc. The structure works well. The rules say that no posts can be deleted or edited, so people consider carefully what they are writing. You can petition for a change to any edits made by the board master, but that’s embedded in an administrative bureaucracy. This is “decentralization under a super power,” he says.
QQ.com is an instant messenger app with over 1.4 billion accounts. It offers many kinds of services, all based on IM. It is a closed system with an open API.
Douban.com is a Web 2.0 site. (“Douban” is a Chinese dish.) Douban provides links to media (books, DVDs), etc., and enables its 36M people to comment, review, and discuss them. Everything posted at Douban is public. “Douban has a lot of Habermas’ public sphere.” But, Donnie adds, it strongly supports censorship.
Donnie points to common features of Chinese Web sites. First, they accept Web 2.0 ideas, but make user-generated contents controllable. Second, they only comply with Chinese culture. Third, they provide integrated services, not an open API. Fourth, they are driven by instant messaging, with a bulletin board management style. The Chinese Internet is not driven by email but by IM.
Google has never made money in China, Donnie says.
Donnie points out the “music” link on the Google.cn page. Google.cn actually is provided by t0p100.cn [I may not have transcribed accurately]. You can download legal music there. But at mp3.Baidu.com you can search the Internet and download what you find. Baidu has been sued, but it’s been defended by the safe harbor laws. Google has been copying Baidu, but not very successfully, Donnie says.
Until 2005, the Chinese control over the Net was accomplished mainly by technical control. From 2003-9, there was more and more legal enforcement. In 2010, there is a legislative rebooting. There is now a jungle of licenses: domains, commercial websites, webcast website, news website, online games…
The switch from tech to law has increased certainty because the authorities have explained why sites are being shut down. It has also caused important discussions to occur. But, the law is immature and thus enforcement is somewhat arbitrary. And the “clouds of licensing systems” are still difficult to navigate. But, these are temporary.
Hillary Clinton said there is a single Internet, says Donnie. “I do not think it is really true from the cultural, legal, and linguistic aspects.” Tim Wu, in Who Controls the Internet, says that the Internet is splitting, and there are under-appreciated advantages of this. “I agree,” says Donnie. Can we get along with each other in this world if the Net splits? “I think we can,” he says, because the Net consists of autonomous systems connected without hierarchy. We have to look at the Internet as pluralist, he says.
What we should really care about, he says, is that those with wealth, who have more access to the Net, do not replicate the economic/social divide on the Internet. [This is based on a brief conversation with Donnie afterwards.]
Q: The Chinese language itself is a barrier, in both directions, but not with Taiwan. Are the sites accessible?
A: Most of the Taiwanese Web sites are accessible in China, including the official government sites. Some sites that advocate Taiwan’s continuing autonomy are not accessible.
Q: What will be the effect of the announcement that access to the Internet is a basic human right?
A: The BBC had a survey that showed that 80% of people believe that, and that news was published all over the Chinese Web sites without problem. The problem is the law from the 1990s. I believe they will be changed sooner or later.
Q: To what extent does the system of govt bureaucracy account for the siloed nature of their services?
A: I think those structures were based on the notion that the Internet is just like other public media, such as TV.
Q: How does the censorship look from the inside?
A: As Rebecca MacKinnon said, most of the citizens don’t feel the censorship. There’s so much information available, so much news, so many services, so many forums. And if you really want to get some information, you can find a way to. And if you really want to express something, you can. The filtering mechanism can’t work perfectly, and their are many examples of this.
Q: What’s wrong with the system?
A: Because it reflects the old mass media, not on the Internet’s nature. It’s old logic. If we can reform the law so that it fits the Internet better, the question will be less urgent.
Q: You’re optimistic about the future of the split Internet. But there should be a common denominator wherever you go. A core function of the Net is to foster the circulation of info. What about the Chinese attitude toward copyright protection?
A: You can compare the systems of censorship and copyright protection. In China, there is a great deal of “freedom” (in quotes) in using copyrighted materials, even though China’s copyright laws are pretty much the same as everyone’s. The govt could do a campaign to fight piracy just as it does to fight pornography, and it could be very effective.
Q: It’s normal that a medium would be adapted to local needs. But do you think there is something about the Net’s design and essence that is core so that if it were changed, it’s not the Internet?
A: I believe everyone in the world has universal rights that should be complied with. But I’m suggesting that the separated parts of the Net could have universal principles and universal protocols.
Q: What separates the Internets?
A: Infrastructurally, linguistically, culturally, legally. By infrastructure, I mean the physical base of the Net. The protocols are the same.
Q: Can you compare the Chinese Internet to other linguistically isolated cultures? E.g., Would you say that Japan has a different Internet as well?
A: The term “pluralism” itself has many layers.
Q: What’s the effect on the ordinary Chinese citizen on Google’s departure? A Nature poll says that Google is the first choice of scientists in China.
A: Google won’t quit all of China. (This is just a guess, he says.) Resourceful users will be able to get to Google even after it departs.
Tagged with: censorship
Date: March 16th, 2010 dw