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China Shoots Self in Foot With Apparent YouTube Censorship Attempt
From: David Farber <dave () farber net>
Date: Thu, 26 Mar 2009 08:55:58 -0400

Begin forwarded message:

From: Lauren Weinstein <lauren () vortex com>
Date: March 25, 2009 1:03:00 PM EDT
To: dave () farber net
Subject: China Shoots Self in Foot With Apparent YouTube Censorship Attempt

     China Shoots Self in Foot With Apparent YouTube Censorship Attempt


Greetings.  As you've probably heard by now, YouTube -- the entire
site -- has apparently been blocked in China by the nation's massive
content control regime.  At last report, YouTube remains blocked.

While there isn't official confirmation (even of the block itself)
from Chinese officials, there is widespread speculation that the
shutdown was triggered by Chinese government displeasure with a
particular YouTube video, purporting to show Chinese soldiers beating
Tibetan monks.  The authenticity of that video has been disputed by

In practice, whether or not the entire video is genuine or not is
essentially irrelevant to the broader issues of Internet content and
censorship attempts.

Rather than blocking entire sites, China of late has been trending
toward more selective blocking of specific Web pages or other specific
Internet items, so the blocking of the entire YouTube site would
appear on its face to be a major escalation, which frankly flies in
the face of logic.

Actually, there's all manner of illogical aspects to such situations.
Google has in the past removed specific "offending" videos from
YouTube upon complaints by specific foreign government officials --
theoretically blocking those videos' access to the entire world
(though in practice alternate copies are always available scattered
around the Net and usually trivial to find).  In some cases (like the
ongoing mass blocking of YouTube music videos from the UK due to an
ongoing rights dispute), Google deploys regional blocking.

But again, in all of these cases, every single one of these videos can
be obtained online by anyone from other Internet sources.

While I understand why Google must respond to rights-based take down
requests, the bottom line is that such efforts aren't only
ineffectual, they also draw new attention to the videos in question.

This is the case with the current Chinese YouTube blockage as well.
I've gotten notes from people who hadn't even heard about the Tibetan
video before word of the Chinese YouTube block started circulating
widely in the press yesterday.  Once folks knew about it, copies
(sometimes encrypted) started flying around the Net at lightning
speed -- through torrents, FTP, e-mail attachments -- you name it.

The end result is that far more people are now paying attention to a
video that China presumably wanted to suppress and minimalize.

China is certainly not alone in failing so far to learn a key
lesson -- that effective Internet censorship is impossible -- no matter
how beneficial to society their leaders (and leaders in other countries)
may feel such content censorship efforts to be.

In the final analysis, the appropriate and effective response to
disputed information in the Internet age is *more* information,
not less.  If a video is faked, then explain why, lay out your case --
treat your population like thinking adults.  Trying to block videos or
other Internet information just doesn't work.

Governments (all through human history) have had a natural affinity
for censorship, but Internet technology has rendered impotent that
tool in a manner that even the invention of the printing press was
unable to accomplish.

The sooner that the governments of the world recognize and accept this
reality, and adjust their policies accordingly, the better off both
they and their citizens will be.  Any other course will not only fail,
but will engender ever increasing damage to their own interests in the

A lose-lose proposition, to be sure.

Lauren Weinstein
lauren () vortex com
Tel: +1 (818) 225-2800
Co-Founder, PFIR
  - People For Internet Responsibility - http://www.pfir.org
Co-Founder, NNSquad
  - Network Neutrality Squad - http://www.nnsquad.org
Founder, GCTIP - Global Coalition
  for Transparent Internet Performance - http://www.gctip.org
Founder, PRIVACY Forum - http://www.vortex.com
Member, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy
Lauren's Blog: http://lauren.vortex.com

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