[Arg. Every time I fix a typo, MovableType re-pings a bunch of trackbacks. Sorry about the duplicates, folks.]
I’ve been having trouble figuring out how to think about the issue of Microsoft’s censorship in China.
Reporters Without Borders has been able to check that, as reported by several news agencies, when a Chinese blogger attempts to post a message containing terms such as “democracy”, “Dalai Lama”, “Falungong”, “4 June” (the date of the Tiananmen Square massacre), “China + corruption”, or “human rights”, a warning displays saying, “This message contains a banned expression, please delete this expression.”
On the one hand, government censorship is reprehensible. On the other hand, Microsoft is just obeying the laws of the countries in which it operates. Yahoo does the same thing. Every company that wants to operate in China has to do that.
The folks at Reporters Without Borders seem to think that Microsoft has another option, although they never say what it is:
“The lack of ethics on the part of these companies is extremely worrying. Their management frequently justifies collaboration with Chinese censorship by saying that all they are doing is obeying local legislation.
“Does that mean that if the authorities asked Microsoft to provide information about Chinese cyberdissidents using its services that it would agree to do so, on the basis that it is “legal” ? Reporters Without Borders wondered.
“We believe that this argument does not hold water and that these multinationals must respect certain basic ethical principles, in whatever country they are operating.”
That’s a nice belief. But how can these companies do that? Microsoft and Yahoo may be giants of the Internet world, but in the real world, they’re not so tough. Neither one is able to operate a rogue internet in China.
The only other possibility is for them to stay out of China completely. That’s what Reporters Without Borders does.
But how would not operating in China help? If censored blogs are bad, then isn’t no blogs at all even worse? The Chinese government doesn’t want its people to blog about freedom and other issues that make them look bad. That sucks, but it’s only a tiny part of blogging. What else do people blog about?
Right this second, here’s the lead article of all ten of Blogger’s Recently Update list:
- A recipe.
- A test message of some kind.
- Something with a photo. It might be testing, it might be art.
- A post about what some guy did this weekend (no permalink).
- A dead link.
- Somebody really looking forward to new comics.
- A post in Spanish that may have something to do with gay marriage. (Google translation es muy malo.)
- A German translation of something by Gabriel García Márquez.
- ” It’s the first day of summer! Yay!!!!!”
- Somebody’s list of 100 things about them.
Hmm. That was a bit weird. Let’s try Typepad’s “Recently Updated Weblogs“:
- Satiric comment about a study revealing that women’s orgasms relieve stress and anxiety.
- Somebody’s little girl being weaned off her Binky so she can go into a daycare facility on a military base.
- A list of eight items of personal trivia.
- A note about personal exercise habits.
- A pointer to a discussion about why someone chose Roman Catholicism instead of one of the Eastern Rite churces.
- An excerpt from someone else’s article about protesting taxi drivers at the Toronto airport.
- A writer’s account of how another writer was inspired by dislike for Macchiavvelli’s The Prince.
- A posting about testing some blogging software.
- Something about Pam Anderson and Courtney Love.
- Somebody planning to go to a movie, then a bar.
So, there’s some politics (although there’s nothing about either Iraq, Social Security, or judicial appointments), but there’s other stuff too. If Microsoft and other Internet companies submit to Chinese censorship, the Chinese people won’t be able to blog about politics. But most blogs are not really about politics. They’re about all this other stuff, much of which would be eliminated if western companies stop doing Internet business in China.
Kerry Howley at Reason explains:
The Chinese, just like the rest of us, want the web for its gossip, games, and, not least, porn. At least four million Chinese maintain blogs, 55,000 of them on MSN spaces. There is more to be passionate about, apparently, than politics.
So the Chinese people may not be able to write about “freedom,” but with only a few constraints, they will be able to do freedom. It’s a step in the right direction.