Google’s recent decision to stop censoring results on its Chinese website and redirect Chinese users to its uncensored Hong Kong site has caused substantial contention among various communities. The Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper, the People’s Daily, denounced Google’s apparent objective and moral façade.
The company is “not a virgin when it comes to values. Its cooperation and collusion with the U.S. intelligence and security agencies is well-known,” an article said.
Chinese experts have also said that Google will suffer by losing a vital partner in China. In fact, China represents the world’s largest Internet market with 400 million users, and the country’s two largest cellular communication companies are expected to end their respective deals with Google.
Human rights activists have applauded the company for maintaining a position of unrestricted information and setting a precedent for future censorship issues.
This standoff between two giants triggers a certain memory, though one on a much smaller scale. At my high school, being protected from taboo subjects and certain articles by reputable news sources like Newsweek wasn’t uncommon. In no way are such restrictions in high schools the same as China’s expansive human rights violations and hacking activities. The two are conducted with different intentions and have vastly different implications. But in the end, it is wrong to block content of any kind.
Some limitations were reasonable — no high school student should be accessing pornographic sites at school. Other times, particularly when researching to write articles for the newspaper, the censorship was exasperating, and hindered us from accessing sites with content the school district deemed inappropriate or objectionable. That content included information remotely related to illegal drugs, homosexuality and everything conventionally considered taboo. So without access to information that was vital to our research and should have been accessible, it obstructed our work and only added to our frustration.
As members of Generation Y, which makes up a substantial population of Internet users, firewalls merely cause resistance. Blindly blocking people from accessing content doesn’t teach or protect them from anything. On the contrary, it inspires creative methods to bypass and defy authority. The information on the web is for everyone’s use, and mistrusting people’s abilities or intentions is insulting.
Governing as a helicopter parent authority is stifling to the people of a nation and only brews dissent. Think about ourselves as college students: Being monitored and unreasonably censored in any sense ultimately carries with it more costs than benefits to authority figures.
Similarly, Chinese Google users are usually well educated and have the ability and willpower to speak up.
As New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof put it, “Young Chinese are impatient for change, and their impatience is compounded by the siren song of the West.” The Chinese Politburo wants to restrict the free flow of information on the Internet, but its people are diametrically opposed to such censorship.
Thus, for the Chinese government to regard Google as an enemy against its people would be a huge mistake . Furthermore, having a dominant world power as a symbol of censorship probably won’t win many enthusiasts over.
Such a divergence in opinion between the people and the government raises numerous red flags. If the government cannot lead the people into believing in censorship, coercion alone won’t do the job. This disconnect is not only embarrassing for Beijing, but it essentially undermines the use of the Internet.
Sure, Google may lose the Chinese market and its governmental support, but its revenue from the Chinese market — between $250 and $300 million — is a drop in the ocean compared to Google’s total annual revenue of $24 billion. Google said it refuses to act as an “agent of the Chinese government,” and instead abides by its name and mission — making the world’s googolplex of information universally accessible.
Senator Byron L. Dorgan, (D-N.D.) said to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, “Information is not to be feared, and ideas are not enemies to be crushed. The truth is China too often wants a one-way relationship with the world.”
What is also true is that a one-way relationship in any context isn’t sustainable.
Nadine Tan is a sophomore majoring in business administration. Her column “World Rapport” runs Fridays.