A self-styled army of Internet users, Anonymous
Netizens, has announced its intention to wage war on government censors, starting
July 1. Global
Voices Online has the text in English; it's also here in Chinese.
Whether their scheduled attack (its nature is not specified) will be felt or
not, the irritation of the document's drafters is palpable: "NOBODY wants to
topple your regime."
The reason is this month's massive censorship drive in China,
ostensibly mounted to protect citizens from online obscenities. Substitute the phrase
"antigovernment" for "vulgar" or "pornographic," and it becomes clear why the
new measures are a concern to journalists and internet users.
Google's English language search engine has spread large
amounts of vulgar content that is lewd and pornographic, seriously violating China's laws and regulations," Chinese Foreign
Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters after Google.com appeared inaccessible
in parts of China
last week, according to China
Daily. The accusation lent credence to Internet users' assumptions that
the site and related services, including Gmail, had been officially censored. Google
acknowledged only that it had experienced some interruption. "We are
investigating the matter, and hope that (we) can restore all the services as
soon as possible," the company said in a statement on Thursday, according
But whether the apparent block was instigated to suppress
porn or dissent, the logic behind it was hard to fathom. China's Information Ministry already
has sophisticated filters in place to limit banned content. What's more, pages
that could not be reached through Google's English searches were still widely
available on the Chinese version, Google.cn, or on Google's main Chinese
competitor, Baidu, according to analyst Rebecca MacKinnon.
Even if you overlook the fallacy that search engines
actively "spread" content, rather than merely facilitating access to it, the action
still makes no sense. Pornography (and information that challenges China's
government) can still be viewed; but a lot of irate people can't check e-mail. Patience
with official interference in Web use was already wearing thin, both
domestically and internationally, following the furor over soon-to-be-mandated
Dam" software. Now, for many, it has snapped altogether.
electronic surveillance capabilities have long posed grave threats to citizens'
freedoms. Liu Xiaobo, the democracy activist and writer, was charged this month
with attempting to subvert state power, according to international news
reports. He was arrested in December 2008, the day before Charter '08, a
political manifesto he is accused of co-authoring, was circulated online. A
Tibetan guide was recently sentenced to three years in prison for sending e-mails
and text messages that "distorted the facts and true situation regarding social
stability in the Tibetan area" following riots in the region in March 2008,
according to the Dui
Hua Foundation, a San Francisco-based advocacy group for political
detainees in China.
Chinese dissidents oppose rights violations of this kind, but media
control generally prevents a public outcry. Yet if the Anonymous Netizens ("innumerable
... omnipresent ... omnipotent ... unstoppable") are anything to go by, the latest
censorship measures have tapped into a vein of opposition that is much more
mainstream. When they tell the Internet censors of China, "YOU are waging this war on
yourself," it's hard not to feel they have a point.