The Chinese internet censorship debate has at least three sides to it and I doubt the differences will evaporate in my lifetime at least. Before turning to an interesting article published on Want China Times yesterday, here is my understanding of the three options being debated worldwide:
The internet must be free. People can choose what they want to look at
AND / OR
The internet we see must reflect our national culture and value systems
AND / OR
The internet must not encourage violence, criminality or vice of any kind
Layers of value underlie these broad statements. What, for example does ‘free’ mean? What values can we impose on others, and whose definition of vice applies.
C.A.C. Regulates Chinese Internet Censorship
Internet censorship in China has to date been a semi self-regulating affair, with individual sites adapting to vague rules, bailing out, or risking sanction. China Digital Times published a useful summary of the Cyberspace Administration of China’s new rulebook, which, although still containing broad brushstrokes only, does make Chinese internet censorship policy a little easier to understand.
Cyberspace Administration of China’s List of ‘Offences’
- Failure to promptly handle complaints or reports by citizens, legal persons, and other organizations regarding internet news information services, where the circumstances are serious;
- Seeking improper interests through methods such as arranging, publication, reprinting or deleting news information;
- Violating provisions related to internet user account name registration, use and management, where the circumstances are serious;
- Failure to promptly address unlawful information, where the circumstances are serious;
- Failure to promptly put in place oversight and management, where the circumstances are serious;
- Where content management and network security systems are not complete or not put in place;
- Where there are prominent problems in routine website evaluation;
- Where there are prominent problems in annual inspections;
- Other situations where violations of relevant law or regulations require an admonishment meeting
The above is courtesy of China Law Translate and comes directly from a leaked C.A.C. information pack to media.
Chinese Internet Censorship in Practice
According to Want China Times, enforcement involves summoning executives to meetings with government officials, explaining concerns and requesting compliance. Sina and NetEase have not escaped the net, with a C.A.C. representative recently commenting that the latter had ‘improved considerably after closing 17 columns, removing 24,000 pieces of negative and vulgar information, punishing 400 accounts, and blocking 19 IP addresses for posting pornographic and vulgar material’.
Chinese internet censorship hence by definition over-rides my first proposition that perhaps the internet should be free. It is more a blend of discouraging violence, criminality, or vice against a broader canvas of national culture and social values.