Thursday, July 16, 2009

China Censors Foreign Websites

The Open Net Iniative (ONI) recently mapped out locations where Internet censorship is "pervasive". Leading the list is China, Iran, Syria, Vietnam, and Tunisia. As chronicled by ONI and experienced in person, in March Youtube was permanently blocked. Two months later in the days before the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising and also the one year anniversary since violence erupted in Tibet in 2008, Blogspot and Wordpress were summarily blocked and have not returned. On June 4th, Flickr, Picasa Web Albums, Twitter and Hotmail were blocked within China during the anniversary of the Tiannamen Square protests. In early July violence broke out in Xinjiang's capitol Urumqi between ethnic Uighurs and Han Chinese, which saw the blocking of Facebook.
The irony is social media facilitates one of humanities most basic needs - the sharing of ideas. Much has been written about how China needs creative people to help the country transition from a largely agragarian economy in rural areas and low-skilled manufacturing to high value added service industries. But how many creative ideas are blocked with a swift invisible hand of censorship? How many innovative new technology videos such as Google Tech Talks will never be seen by local Chinese? How many inspiring photos will never be seen by any of China's more than 50 ethnicities? And how many potential business conversations and relationships will never be forged online? Yes, China has its own search engines like Baidu, and its own versions of youtube such as Youkou, but in a 'flat world' a country cannot benefit from the collective wisdom of the crowd when billions of people's outside voices are restricted. As Richard Florida states in Flight of the Creative Class, a country's ability to compete is largely based upon its ability to attract the most talented and creative global people. Mr. Florida states that this is facilitated when regions embrace openness, and harnesses the power of creative individuals. What would my hometown of Silicon Valley, California be like without creative immigrants like Google co-founder Sirgey Brin of Russia, Intel co-founder Andy Grove of Hungary, or Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla of India? If the U.S.A. had restricted individual forms of self expression and sharing then these creative individuals may have never have chosen to work and live in America. Each foreign website that China blocks deters talented people from choosing to make the move to China. Ironically, it is a global creative class who can help China realize its ambitions to establish the modern service economy it so badly craves.

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