Political Promise

Ju Shardlow On… The Great Firewall of China

In Ju Shardlow on April 30, 2010 at 2:58 pm

After a skeptical analysis of tight-fitting lycra, I have abandoned my hopes of running the Gwacheon Marathon this Sunday dressed as Batman or Wonder Woman. Instead, I shall be decked in the loose manga-khaki of Green Dam Girl. As an emblem of the now-famous censorship software, hopefully the slower I run the race, the more I can claim that I was “held up” by the ‘great firewall of China’.

Yes, this makes me a sad individual. But at least a topically tragic one, for the green giant has reared its head in the news again this week. In August of last year, The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology dropped the requirement to install Green Dam Youth Escort software in all new computers. Foreign computer makers and web users alike were pretty smug that their lobbying paid off. Since then, however, the Google escapade has highlighted that the Chinese government doesn‘t have to impose a software program to control what you see on your screen.

But my, do people over-estimate the censor’s capabilities.

Green Dam was pushed aside even by its creators. The more glaring of its faults was: that there was no actual incentive to run the software once it was installed. Yes. That simple. Couple this with the growth of ‘how-to’ websites giving tips on how to cheat the firewall and the authorities would pretty much be chasing their own tails. To add insult to injury, this week an American company Cybersitter LLC claimed that the Green Dam software developers stole 3,000 lines of code directly from them. How utterly embarrassing. Not only had the policymakers not employed people with sufficient cyber-knowledge of their own, you would also at least think that software developers had an awareness of property rights.

The reactionary persona of the authorities in recent months – spontaneously removing music download sites, study aids and photographs of pigs in a sty- is akin to someone trying to ride a bike whilst holding a massively precious jelly. Soon enough, they think they have to eat the jelly as it‘s getting everywhere, whereas it would have been wiser not to attempt cycling with it in the first place.

These seemingly random actions (pulling down anything that looks remotely suspicious) reflect a Government who is not in control of nor has legitimate borders for ‘appropriate content’. The powers that be have also decided to make a “white list” of approved sites, collated on a sign-up basis. Only this doesn’t look like it’ll get implemented any time soon. Anyway, I highly doubt if any foreign sites post-Googlegate would wish to put themselves forward for consideration.

So what if Beijing News is right, that Green Dam is being slyly reinstated through web-cuts? Well, good luck to them. Apart from being (as accused) of lazy construction, juddery reactionism and almost-comical ineptitude in catching thousands of dissenting bloggers, there is no evidence that any of this censorship works. After all, we can assume that the objective of Green Dam et al was to change the minds of users from pornographic dissenters to sheepish line-toers. The explosion of the blogsphere and twitter demonstrate this beautifully. Thousands of Chinese tweeters post information about current events in China – such as news of jailed activists – despite the site being blocked by authorities. Of course, if users have already got round the censors, then they are more likely to want to discuss issues of freedom, liberty and discontent.

This is not to belittle the frustration that users must undergo to find their favourite sites removed for no reason. I’d be particularly narked if someone stopped me watching the revelation moments of makeover shows online because they were deemed to have pornographic connotations. My point is that there are clear weaknesses of the censorship system which can be exploited. At least then when I run on Sunday, I might raise a few smirks from knowledgeable liberal-minded individuals.

This is always the dream.


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