A brief history of internet freedom in China
Citizens and international representatives who continue to fight for increased internet freedom in the People's Republic of China certainly have their work cut out for them. With more journalists and cyber-dissidents imprisoned than any other country in the world, according to Amnesty International, it's more difficult than ever to find an unregulated corner of the Web, though many continue to try. Most recently, wildly popular chat application WeChat was banned from the country after experiencing a massive jump in popularity in early 2014, allowing users to chat freely in a way that was tricky for the government to regulate. This was hardly the beginning, however – here's a quick rundown of China's rollercoaster ride of internet freedom.
Social Media, IP Blocking and Arrests
When it comes to finding and blocking channels of free speech on the Internet, the Chinese government certainly has a lot of material to sift through. Like Americans, citizens were initially drawn to major social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and others, both of which have been allowed and disallowed time and time again. Facebook experienced a period of blockage back in 2008 and has been re-banned with a small exception – as of fall 2013, those who lived or worked within a 17-mile radius of Shanghai were allowed access to the major social media site, according to a report from The Daily Mail. The lift was justified as opening the Internet in the "Free Trade Zone." Twitter remains banned throughout the country, but shortcuts to making use of the service have been discovered.
YouTube and all affiliated Google products are also banned from China as of the past month, though some citizens have found ways to access the media around the over 17,000 IP blockings that exist within the country's limits. The motivation for the most recent blockage, the Associated Press speculated, directly correlates to the special content the conglomerate was running on the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square incident.
"China has a history of censorship ahead of the Tiananmen anniversary," the piece explained. "The ruling party prohibits public discussion, and all events from 1989 are banned from textbooks and Chinese websites."
In addition to these massive content blocks, the Chinese government has also been extremely strict with individuals who have attempted to work around the constantly shifting laws. The past several months have been littered with arrests and firings of prominent Chinese bloggers, including writer Zhang Jialong, who was let go merely for meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, according to a report from Business Week.
Difficult-to-regulate corners of the Internet
Though blocking major communication outlets like Facebook and Twitter is easy enough, some areas of the Internet have been especially difficult for the Chinese government to crack down on. Cloud computing has presented a new, uncharted territory for legislators, who are still struggling with regulating. An in-depth report from Foreign Policy writer Jeff South explained the country's difficulty with Amazon services.
"Just as businesses can store data on AWS, so can other users," South said. "This poses a dilemma for government censors: They can't selectively block content on encrypted cloud services, according to officials at GreatFire.org, OpenITP, and other Internet freedom advocacy groups. China must either tolerate the material – or block AWS entirely and undermine the businesses using it."
There's no doubt that the country's intense censorship, often referred to as "The Great Firewall," will continue to evolve and ban the flavor-of-the-week website as the public's frustration increases. As the Google ban continues, businesses who previously run on applications like Gmail have experienced extreme difficulties running their day-to-day – with any luck, this stem in productivity will be enough to regain these organizations their peace of mind. In the meantime, it's anyone's guess.