Olympics: Guerrilla warfare online

First, a pointer to Rebecca Mackinnon’s Asia Wall Street Journal oped from yesterday, The Chinese Censorship Foreigners Don’t See . She makes many of the same points I did about how the Great Firewall is leaky, and the control of the Internet in China relies on much more than technology.

The debate is still open about whether China will win the Internet technological battle and be able to stifle what has become the country’s widest space for public discourse. The battle is boiling down to a sort of digital asymmetric warfare similar to the real battlefields we see in places like Afghanistan, where poorly equipped but hard to locate guerrillas are able to make significant inroads into confronting much more powerful traditional forces. (As an example of an online guerrilla tactic, I like the use of pictures instead of words–Look at picture, don’t say a word–to get around censoring filters that Kristin Jones pointed out.)  

The question can be posed as: Will the populous forces prevail in the end, or will the shear weight of the state, with its massive technological capacity, prevail?

James Fallows’ article in The Atlantic, The Connection Has Been Reset, argues that the government will win just because it will wear down normal citizens who don’t want to engage in hit and run warfare on the Internet – they are online for the information or the entertainment, not to play hide and seek with the online cops. I’m not sure I agree. It still seems to me, as it does to Fallows and Mackinnon if I’m reading them correctly, that for now the government is playing a rearguard action. Me, I’m betting on the masses to wear down the government, not for the machine to grind the people down.

(Reporting from Hong Kong)