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2009-03-06

 

Great Firewall v.s. Social Media

image It's a very long history for China to deploy censorship system( I think the legacy came from it's ever regimes since Qinshi Huangdi, the first emperor ). So although the current communist party were ever not so agile first when Internet was introduced to this country in early stage, now seems they are more boastful on controlling it with both technical and social deployment.

On the technical part. Great Firewall (GFW in short) in China is now seen as the most complicated one around the world for it's scale, consistency and super computing power behind the infrastructure. The economic boom in this country ensures investment of  the system. It came from people and used toward people. So besides of domain blocking, IP blocking and http keyword reset, the government also tried DNS hijacking sometimes to test the tolerance from communities. Many web site patterns(like wordpress.com,typepad.com, etc.) are totally inaccessible here.

Along with the technical screwing, China authority also well borrowed the methodologies from their mature ruling on old media to control the Internet hierarchically . Just in the past six years, they have release over 10 regulations to curb people's right of publishing. E.g. the real name registration of blog give people many pressure to publish their free ideas. Also they monitor people's traffic to punish those free speakers to frighten others. They sent over thousands of net police to force businesses to do self-censorship to co-hunt the mouse in the racing game(like guiding each web site to remove 'malicious' content and report in a daily manner by setting up instant messenger groups). You may also have heard that many International businesses,  including Yahoo, Microsoft and Google,  "have to" comply to the local hidden rules. The problem became more complicated with such compromises. And that's reason I wrote open letter to Google founders in 2007.

But things always how double-sides. The tighter the censoring is, the more enemies it generated in this country. With the most recent crackdowns on Internet content with the beautified excuse of “anti-vulgarity”, we see more and more online protest including many creative cursing like the famous “alpacas”. The escalated censorship never faces such big challenges from the booming content in web 2.0 age. The new flat network of content sharing dramatically changed the paradigm of free speech.  Each time the authority add new censorship rules, the blogosphere will not only outcry loudly to the whole world but also find new ways to bypass it before next wave of reactions from censorship.  With the shifting of readership to more social media space, the public awareness of censorship was raised the same time. I guess there are over 10% percent of Internet users now fully understand the wall comparing less than 2% two years ago from a survey in Chinese Blogger Conference. Then there comes stronger will for circumvention. Many users in China can easily setup a dynamic proxy, using Tor, or setting VPN or SSH tunnel to get across the system. 10% can become revolutionary, isn’t it?

But we need more time to realize revolution. Blogging and Micro-blogging plays very important role to spread the meme not only about circumvention tools  but also the censored content itself. As there’re already a 40M blogger population in China, the same time emerged a lot of creative ideas over anti-censorship in the past few years. While some prominent bloggers continuously promote the circumvention technologies, some other bloggers started to collaborate on legal actions to sue the ISPs cooperating with censorship system.  It also raises the hope to disrupt the whole system with totally different strategy. I'm seeing the headache from China authority because of the challenges from any corners. The horizontal collaboration also distributes the risks of being targeted by the government.

So i believe anti-censorship is not simple a combat in one country but a global war. Social media shows the power of global connectivity without competency.   For example, Psiphon could have better architecture than Tor, but i'm still trying to find some better ways with more convergences with social enhancement. We should apply a whole new horizontal model rather than top-down broadcasting of a single solution. China case can be a good sample because of both the complexity of censorship against variety of solutions. Based on our experiences, designing social-media-based advocacy programs and technologies would be much more cost-effective strategy in such nanny countries.

Today, I categorized the circumvention strategy into 3 layers, the connectivity, technology and fabric. The physical layer is important because of connectivity, so sometimes we need FON like project to maximize the possibilities of connections. I believe more entrepreneurs will find new business ideas to enlarge this layer for any incentives.

Above connectivity, Tor/VPN/Psiphon like stuffs provide tunnels to enable people to get across the firewall for any individual. Sometimes they are powerful because any censorship will be invalid theoretically. However, till today, I didn't see any technologies can fit for all circumvention requirement. The technical redundancy let people fed up, the same time introducing more technologies.

So there's the 3rd layer, Social Fabric,  is emerging since 2007 by the co-computing of people networks and machines to spread information. Friendfeed, Twitter, Google Readers, etc. are playing as building blocks of this layer, forming the real many-to-many fabric like super-dense pipeline system to reach best result.  As there are tougher crackdowns in China this year, we can see how RSS and twitter meme spread even faster . That's the possibility we can assert Social Media is the future weapon to disrupt censorship. 

Btw, youtube.com was reported hitting the wall timely in China since yesterday in the period of annual Congress. And once again twittersphere kept best watching by  over such a case which leads to a further step closer to freedom.

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