Internet freedom continues to yo-yo in China
With a topic as controversial and every-changing as net neutrality, a country's entire attitude toward Internet freedom can change in a matter of hours. Such is the case in the People's Republic of China – minor progress was made in September 2013 when the 17-mile "Shanghai Free Trade Zone" lifted previous bans on Facebook, Youtube and Twitter, but the majority of the country remains unable to use these social media monoliths, according to Mother Jones writer Dana Libelson.
China's latest robbery of free speech
Similar bans have been enforced and lifted time and time again in Turkey, North Korea, Iran and Vietnam as well, but China has made the most recent move in censorship by blocking popular application WeChat nationwide. Reuters writer Megha Rajagopalan was amongst the first to break the story, and explained what this meant for Chinese citizens who continually tried to communicate their frustration with the oppressive government in a safe web space.
"Unlike popular micro-blogging services such as Sina Corp's Sina Weibo, where messages can reach millions of people in minutes, WeChat allows users to communicate in small, private circles of friends, and send text and voice messages for free – a big part of its success," Rajagopalan explained in the piece.
Understandably, the freedom to discuss provided by the WeChat app posed a threat to the Chinese government, which already has a series of legal punishments in place for those who spread "rumors" on the Internet, specifically on micro-blogging services like Twitter or WeChat. Any post regarding a government rumor that is shared either seen by more than 5,000 people or shared over 500 times is subject to investigation.
Ironically, this ban was put into place just a day after the government released a report on the expanded Internet freedom its people were currently enjoying – blog Want China Times reported at the time the statement was released.
"Chinese people enjoy extensive freedom of speech," the report said. "Within the range allowed by the Constitution and other laws, the public can discuss political issues freely."
The article noted WeChat as a popular application for free and open communication at the time, only to be shut down nationwide the next day. Attitudes toward Internet freedom appear to be suspended from a yo-yo – the public can be vocal one day, then forced to be silent the next.
What the U.S. can do to show support
Stateside, the continual perpetuation of acts like this can serve as a call to action for the everyday citizen and an even louder demand to acknowledge the freedoms being removed for American representatives. Massachusetts senator John Kerry recently met with Chinese blogger Zhang Jialong to discuss the furthering of Internet freedom in China, and Jialong was fired from his employer shortly after, according to a report from Business Standard.
This firing, Jialong retained, was a direct result of his communication with Senator Kerry, and he was let go for "leaking business secrets and other confidential and sensitive information." Prior to being fired, he worked at major Chinese Internet firm Tencent.
In spite of this consequence, Jialong's actions were able to bring more information about what is called "The Great Chinese Firewall" to the attention of Americans, while most citizens are forced to find other communication outlets that are rapidly being eliminated by their government.
While net neutrality remains a business and privacy issues in the United States, for many Internet freedom can mean something as simple as self-expression. For the Chinese, WeChat's elimination will only make it more difficult to communicate freely until the next big communication loophole is developed.