Commentary

Hey, China! You Can't Just Stuff Social Media Down A Rabbit Hole

Far be it from me to get all political on you guys, but, here goes: let's have a little chit-chat about China's shutdown of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, as we head into the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests, in which students rallied for more democracy in China.

 

As an American, of course, I think the whole attempt to squelch people is entirely lunatic, but the Chinese are missing something even more here that is painfully obvious to all of us: the rise of social media tools will make it nigh impossible for China to keep people who want to express themselves down on the rice paddy.

The first image that sprang to mind as I thought about this was Bugs Bunny. Remember all those cartoons where Yosemite Sam sticks a gun down the rabbit hole he dove into, only to see him pop up from another one, before there is time to react? Even though you could almost call it progressive that the Chinese have allegedly shutdown Microsoft's Bing, which launched only last week, Chinese blogger Michael Anti points out: "Twitter is a new thing in China. The censors need time to figure out what it is. So enjoy the last happy days of twittering before the fate of YouTube descends on it one day." (YouTube was shut down by China in March, possibly because it had a clip of Chinese police allegedly beating up Tibetan protesters.)

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But, proving out my rabbit hole theory, Friendfeed so far, appears to have escaped China's watchful eye - there seems to be a modest movement, which I noticed on a Twitter search by typing in the hashtag "#gfw" (Great Firewall) and "Friendfeed", of people affected by the Twitter ban now using Friendfeed or ping.fm. Other people will probably gravitate to those places as well, with the censors trailing too far behind. Just as it was with the Berlin Wall, technology is playing a role in disassembling communism. Sweet.

But, as much as I'm optimistic about the long-term failure of China's trying to squelch its citizenship, I still expect that Twitter, Facebook and some of the other more well-known social media tools China has blocked will only come back briefly after the Tiananmen anniversary is over, if they come back at all. It's obvious that if the Chinese censors decide to bring Twitter and Facebook back up in a few days, those who wanted to protest will use those tools to do so. It's not very different from when you try to make a cell phone call and finds you're out of range; you keep trying until they can make the phone call happen.

Therefore, in the near-term, Twitter and Facebook are probably toast in China, but as for trying to censor all of social media? Won't happen. Or to put it as Porky Pig would: "That's all, folks."

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(Editor's note: Speaking of Twitter, look out for the panel "Meet the Corporate Twitterers" at OMMA Social. Click here to see the agenda.)

3 comments about "Hey, China! You Can't Just Stuff Social Media Down A Rabbit Hole".
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  1. Brian Hayashi from ConnectMe 360, June 3, 2009 at 4:46 p.m.

    China is adamant that it is not censoring social media, and in fact the public apparatus might indeed be telling the truth. Individual Chinese ministries operate much like US corporations and while the head politico may be completely honest in his attempts to be open and transparent, the whole affair might be gummed up by some lesser ministry official who is equally adamant that the anniversary must pass without incident.

    As we wonder about China's handling of Twitter, one need only visit @kcna_dprk, ostensibly North Korea's only Twitter account (supposedly manned by the KOREAN CENTRAL NEWS AGENCY of DPRK) to see what the official @Chinese line might look like.

    I think a bigger question for us Americans is what happens when the Internet enables all sorts of people to engage in commerce without English being part of the conversation. That day is coming fast; after all, you don't need to speak English to use the Internet. English as a lingua franca acts as a pseudo-VAT, forcing media, finance and more to be adjudicated in English-speaking courts, where America reigns supreme. As China and its lesser-known economic rival India begin squaring off in earnest, future generations of American youth may think of social networking as the spark that let the rest of the world go on without us.

  2. Stuart Hill from Living Media Group, June 4, 2009 at 12:01 a.m.

    This article provided very little insight. The news angle is topical, but what about something covering the technologies that the Chinese government fears? And how they are being put to use to subvert the authorities? Or perhaps explore other reasons why a website would be shut down...to protect a local version? Or even more controversial, the fawning that western companies are doing to comply with local legal frameworks.

    There are a lot of issues you could rally against, none of which should be trivialized by references to rice paddies.

  3. Swag Valance from Trash, Inc., June 4, 2009 at 12:02 p.m.

    You forget that China will find a way to create its own internal versions thereof.

    We drink the Kool-Aid a bit in believing that every country and every citizen will love Twitter and Facebook as in our own.

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