Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Chinese Internet and how it functions

Dr. Min Jiang is an associate professor and diversity coordinator in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. Her research interests include Chinese internet, politics and policy, global media, international communication, and media activism.
As a Chinese native, Dr. Jiang spoke to me about her perspective of the authoritarian deliberation of Chinese internet, or more simply put, the filtering of content that the Chinese government partakes in over the web.

From Dr. Jiang’s perspective, there are multiple layers, or “spaces,” that Chinese internet exists in. Think of it like an onion. The first layer is closest to the core but also the toughest, and then, with each layer, the onion becomes softer until the outer layer, which encompasses the largest space, is reached.

Now unlike an onion, the ones doing the peeling of these layers are probably not crying over it.

So now you’re thinking, “Wait, what?”

Allow me to elaborate.

Layer 1. Central Propaganda Spaces
Control percentage, 100%

Think Yahoo. Then give the government absolute control over it so the website is closely watched for anything that might be harmful to the government and carefully filtered, making sure that the information provided is correct and useful before it gets into the public eye.
Okay never mind, it’s not like Yahoo at all, but you get the point.

These websites use different forms of media to provide information to the public. Dr. Jiang showed me on one for the government sites how the Chinese government even opened up “Q&A” forums where anyone can ask public questions concerning just about anything involving federal policy... Whether or not these questions would be published is still up to the filtration of the government.

Layer 2. Government-Regulated Commercial Spaces
Control percentage, 75%

This space incorporates the best part of the internet: entertainment! Included in this space’s content is music, instant messaging, news, search engines, online videos, and gaming, so the users, or “netizens,” are usually younger.

Although entertainment companies usually run these spaces, they are still subject to the filtration regulations of the Chinese government. However, because of the massive number of users in this space, filtration of all content is pretty much impossible. Netizens also use words that sound similar to the filtered words, or contextual references to get a point across without actually going against the filters in place. For example, after the protests of Tiananmen square, the Chinese government would not allow any pictures to be posted on the web concerning the incident. So netizens got creative. They took the famous “Tank Man” picture where a protestor stood in front of 4 tanks and halted their movement, and replaced the tanks with large yellow rubber ducks and posted this picture on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.

This not only allowed for this picture to be posted without being pulled by the great firewall, it also mocked the Chinese government. So then China had to filter out anything concerning ducks. See the problem?

Layer 3. Emergent Civic Spaces

Control percentage, 50%

This is the space that hosts most debate regarding things independent of the state and market. Mostly civic organizations, including those involved in business, environment, women’s issues, social services, health, and community development, exist here, but some cultural and religious organizations hold a presence as well. In this space these organizations discuss and coordinate ideas and actions around collective interests. Mother’s Choice, a non-profit organization that offers support to small children, teens, and women who are in need of care, counseling, or shelter as a result of unintentional pregnancies or other domestic conflicts, is an organization that would fall into this category.

These spaces sound useful, but if Congress has taught us anything, debate isn’t exactly progressive. That, coupled with the fact that this space only makes up roughly 1 percent of the current domains, makes the practical application of these spaces pretty unrealistic. However, these civic spaces are continuing to expand.

Layer 4. International Deliberation Spaces
Control Percentage... China doesn’t want to talk about it.

This space is home to “bridge bloggers,” or bloggers who are bilingual or multilingual and use this ability to bridge cultures and bring international interest to the realities of the Chinese people.

This space includes social media sites such as Facebook and Wiebo and is dangerous for the Chinese government because it brings forth problems that are usually filtered by the great firewall and bring attention to the suppressive censorship of the Chinese government.

Now imagine a room full of people, and then try to make sure none of those people say the word “onion.” Now imagine some people start saying “Allium cepa” instead of actually saying onion. Now turn that room into a country with the highest population and then sit down, because it’s impossible.

According to Dr. Jiang, this is the problem China is facing today. With computers, mobile devices, and other technology giving netizens the ability to access to the internet almost anywhere China seems to be losing the once great grip over content that they used to have.

China has started to allow small amounts of public discussion on economic, social, and political affairs, which seems to have put China somewhere in democratic totalitarian limbo. However, without these controlled “freedoms,” netizens wouldn’t have the ability to release negative thoughts towards the government and would become even more of a political risk than they already are.

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