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High-Tech Dystopia: Internet Censorship in China | Sarah Cook | China Uncensored

High-Tech Dystopia: Internet Censorship in China | Sarah Cook | China Uncensored



the internet in China it's a high-tech dystopia and officials from around the world are going to China to learn how to build their own internet dystopia welcome back to China uncensored I'm Chris Chappell internet censorship in China today has reached absurd levels people have been jailed for the things they say on WeChat here's a quick list of some of the things censored on the Chinese internet Tiananmen Square massacre an empty chair we need the poo and even the letter n that must make the Chinese version of Sesame Street so difficult but to find out exactly how bizarre the internet censorship in China is I sat down with Sarah cook she's a senior research analyst and director of the China media bulletin for Freedom House an NGO focused on research and advocacy for democracy political freedom and human rights thank you for joining us today Sarah my pleasure so how bad is internet censorship in China well to be honest the Chinese Communist Party has created the most multifaceted and sophisticated system of Internet censorship in the world and actually in freedom houses freedom on the net report for like the last three years China has been designated as the worst abuser of internet worse in Syria yeah I mean I think it's different factors so it's worse in Syria and Iran I think it's a different dynamic in terms of what the political situation in these countries are I mean in Syria it might be they don't have internet access because you know something's been bombed down in China there's quite a good amount of actual access to the Internet and it's increased but the extent to which people are able to actually do certain things on the Internet and the scale of controls that are exercised that are in place even if they're not always activated and exercised it's tremendous it goes through the entire internet system in China and it's by far the most sophisticated and pervasive of anywhere else in the world so I know a lot of people sort of make the mistake of thinking of Internet censorship as like the government preventing certain information from out there but a big part of it is actually pushing a message the government once what is the message the Communist Party is pushing well it depends really it depends on the topic and it depends on the audience in some ways you know you have the kind of set forms a set taboo topic so you know not letting people know about June June 4th or about Falun Gong or about Taiwanese Square massacre yeah yeah it's a ten minute Square massacre or about what's really happening to Weaver's and Tibetans in different parts of China but part of that is also manipulating the message so you know again it's this combination of censorship and propaganda that are really two sides of the same coin and so some of it is suppressing the bad news and then the part of it is promoting the good news and actually like Xi Jinping talks about promoting like positive the China's a positive well the China that's more outside of China telling a good China story that's more outside of China within China they wanted the you know promote like positivity and you know and and just to give an exact like just the extremes to which they go to do that you know like you see from leaked censorship directives that they will tell websites that let's say the landing page of like a Google News type of web site has that the top story has to be this and in some cases I think there's a sense that the rankings on social media platforms of like what's the hottest news now is manipulated last year when I think it was last year on the constitutional it was changed to basically enable Xi Jinping become president for life if you looked at like the top ranking topics on social media I was like how to eat noodles on a high-speed train this is inside China this is inside China these are own platforms that are trying to run by Chinese companies and so not necessarily like like Google this is like Chinese this is Chinese social medias way boy I see no way boy WeChat so it's yeah these are trying to because the Chinese government uses the Great Firewall the block the kinds of social media applications that we all use Facebook Twitter those aren't really accessible to people in China unless they have a way of jumping the firewall but within China then you have these kind of Chinese alternatives that become extremely popular and have whole departments of staff whose job is basically to identify and censor content and then in some cases based on instructions specifically to promote other content Wow so when Xi Jinping became president for life the main story was how to eat noodles that was like one of the top-ranking stories on Weibo because they had censored so because it's a combination right it's because they had censored so much of the keywords and the conversations that Chinese people were trying to have about this like important news topic and and so you didn't have that trending and then I think we suppose that there was some kind of manipulation of the trending as well so this kind of ties into the whole patriotic education as well well patriotic education is a term that's usually specifically used in Tibet but in general there's like a type of just yeah generally kind of nationalistic education you know very Pro Communist Party and then it's not just that like a specially under Xi Jinping it's like promoting Xi Jinping fought per se mm-hmm and certainly like tenets of Xi Jinping thought and referring to him as like the core leader that's where under XI especially there's a little bit of a sense of like a personality cult that he didn't necessarily see earlier okay so in the West sort of the original model the internet was that it was free and open China is offering an alternative model to Internet what is the China internet model well the Chinese government would say it's a form of cyber sovereignty it's the idea that the Internet does not cross borders it's that the internet really stops at the border and you create a certain bore a virtual border and the China it's the case of the Great Firewall but it's also elements of a various laws like the cyber security law and requiring data centers to have the certain you know to be applications or things like iCloud to have its servers inside China and not be able to be outside of China so that whatever happens within China is really under the Communist Party's control and there's multiple ways in which that's done either technologically are also legally and it's Ministry of lis but that's in a lot of ways the model and it's a combination of this kind of high-tech techno dystopia that that is maybe less achievable for other countries depending on their their their technological caliber and and resources monetary resources but it is also a different model that rule that that is maybe easier to mimic in sort of specific kinds of legislation arresting bloggers sentencing them to present you know arresting forcing a local meet social media companies to do their own censorship and and then injecting this type of kind of proactive manipulation of paid government commentators or other forms of but you know the times probably calls kind of gaining the upper hand in terms of Co guiding public opinion so it's all of those factors combined but ultimately it's this idea that within China's borders particularly within a particular country's borders you should have full control over what people can see and do on the internet and not allow these companies outside like Facebook or Twitter or others to to be able to preform the New York Times to produce information that your people can read and see so if you look at China's model of internet controls it's not just censorship which we think of a lot it's a combination of censorship but also extensive and pervasive surveillance and monitoring of what people are doing online real name registration so they can that's how they can arrest people because they can trace that this person has a seemingly anonymous account is it actually belongs to this particular individual you can't be honest on the Chinese internet and increasingly with people who are on Twitter they're not anonymous on Twitter somehow the Chinese government is figuring out ways to trace it back the Twitter account back to their phone number and they're getting a knock at the door for what they're writing on Twitter even though Twitter is banned in China even though it's banned in China people are jumping the firewall it's open and they're most and in some cases people have like 3,000 followers I mean that people with millions of followers necessarily but they're getting knocks at the door in some cases just for opening an account or or things like that and they're being being so that's you know they're being harassed and so that's an even arrest I just need to make sure that's not happening to the good people of the People's Daily Twitter account no of course not right so that's the thing that's the so there was actually big a relatively recent case of some employee chinese state media getting in trouble first creating a sort of personal twitter account when you have chinese state media like shanghai and people's daily and china daily and CGEN they all have with millions of followers and they're able to access you know million talk to millions of people around the world but if you're you know Chinese women rights lawyer a professor or even an individual employee of those two yes and then your people are starting again sure well that's something very new a year ago that wasn't happening that's something relatively recent so you've got a combination of censorship of surveillance and of intimidation and harassment and all of and this kind of proactive manipulation that all of it together creates a very interesting environment in China because on the one hand you have a lot of information that censored and that's inaccessible but there's still a vibrancy about it and all kinds of things that well you know if you think about what you do with your phone yes you checked in New York times you check news that would probably be censored in China you also look up what movie is playing nearby you use Google to the Google Maps to go and try to navigate how to get to your friend's house you look up what the ranking is on this particular restaurant all of those types of things are accessible in China although were there with Chinese apps and not the ones that we would usually use but so so it's kind of this illusion of choice that's created where the Chinese government can control everything it doesn't necessarily and this space is shrinking but it's created a system where it could control everything if at once and it's able to nip ik and pull out and censor the things that doesn't want people talking about so what happens to people inside of China who get on the wrong side of the internet censors um well it depends you can it can range from having a particular post to be deleted to having your entire account be canceled so there's lots of examples of on these kind of parallel social media applications in China run by Chinese companies people with millions of followers just like that it's gonna depress the button it's gone Oh God and in some cases that has real impact on their livelihood too because people will earn money because they're a famous author or whatever it celebrities so so it can range from you know from those types of examples of losing pavia postally and having your account cancelled all the way through to being sentenced to prison in some case it's a very long prison terms ten years fifteen years about very long long prison terms so if I were making China uncensored inside of China what would happen if a few things would happen first of all you would really have no way of distributing it so you would try to open if you tried to open in the counter when the Chinese social media either they wouldn't let you or very quickly after they saw what you were sharing they would just delete it and that would be the end of that you would try to open a website and you wouldn't be able to and then you would be under liability you know potentially personally especially if you create an episode where you were say mocking Xi Jinping which I'll never do what you would never do because China and Sandra's do any mockery of Chinese no officials or the Communist Party or or so so so then you would potentially be liable to being arrested getting a knock on your door in the middle the nine be taken away and then be jailed and you know have a trial that lasts for half an hour and not being able to access a lawyer and then you know however long they'll have all the so-called evidence but we've actually seen that we've seen people who just posted things making just humorous there's a lot of people in China have gone in trouble for posting humorous things oh the the memes about cheating things yeah the poo yes so for example those I don't know anybody's actually been sent jailed for sharing or posting a meme related xi jinping Lee the poo but certainly heavily censored and there had been other people who have you know posted something that was a different kind of a mockery of XI who have been sent to administrative detention or I think in one case even sentenced like two years in prison now this internet model that China is creating they are trying to export that around the world right that's got to be appealing to other authoritarian regimes yes and I would say not always even just authoritarians per se but I think what we've seen over time is that there were already elements even without a deliberate projection and export from China that were being adopted by other regimes like Iran or Vietnam and then I think what we've seen in the last two years is that the communist parties actually been much more explicit about wanting to promote their model and make their model not only for other countries but even trying to said stant international standards and that gets into more technological stuff but that relates say for example to 5g standards and others so that their standards become adopted elsewhere and even become they even use words like the consensus internationally that's creepy but yes but but but yes so you definitely but now I think more actively you have efforts to to promote the China model in some cases it's in terms of the export of technologies and a lot of cases it's a difference it's more about other kinds of know-how so one of the things we found with the latest issue of freedom on the net was that we looked at how many countries had sent officials to China to have some kind of training related to new media or so-called information management and actually found that I have the 65 countries 36 had sent officials and that included places like Thailand or Vietnam say you have very heavy internet restrictions but also places like the Philippines for example that doesn't or are parts of I think even Latin American countries that have a fairly open Internet and they were sending officials there for some kind of a train any European countries I don't remember the specific list of countries I would be surprised because one of the reasons that people also go on this is also because it's kind of a nice all expended pave all expenses paid junket to China and so that can be attractive for you know some random Filipino official in the Ministry of Communication yeah so this technology didn't come out of thin air how did Western tech companies help build this system so in some cases it was pretty direct like we have reason to believe that Cisco for example had played a role in helping the Chinese government build the Great Firewall other aspects of what's called Golden Shield which is an internet censorship and surveillance but at the same time you also have I would say indirect examples where from even seemingly innocuous academic exchanges and things like that or other types of joint venture partnerships there was a certain degree of know-how that was transferred to Chinese companies were Chinese tech geniuses and and those people were then you know applied it to systems that are actually used to suppress Internet freedom in China so that you see a little bit with certain things now coming out about artificial intelligence and the like and so I think you see that in terms of actually developing the system yeah so besides the kind of structural elements on a more micro level you have Western companies who do engage in censorship for Chinese users so for example Apple has deleted apps from Chinese mobile app stores and that includes specific news websites like entity TV or news apps or the New York Times but it also has deleted and removed hundreds of the kinds of applications that let people jump the firewall and access uncensored news and then you have for example LinkedIn that does some level of censorship for people in China in terms of what profiles they're able to see so you definitely have also ways in which Western companies when they're dealing with content have to censor on behalf of the Chinese government so it's very disturbing to hear that like companies like Microsoft or Google are like doing research with Chinese military universities that that technology might be used in Shenyang for mass surveillance do you think there's any possibility that this kind of censorship will be exported to like a country like the United States like for instance I know Mark Zuckerberg has talked about wanting more control over the internet hmm well I think in some ways we see certain forms of Chinese censorship already coming to the west and that takes the form in some cases of self-censorship by companies like Airlines who aren't gonna put Taiwan in the drop-down menu because they came under Chinese pressure or a case I think was worse eighties bends where they had a post on a social media website I think was Instagram that was outside China not accessible to any Chinese people and I quoted the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government got upset and then they actually like deleted it and I think it should you know this very comfortable yes official apology so I think you see that kind of censorship slowly sneaking into the West but the other thing is that you have a Chinese company called Tencent that once runs an instant messaging application called WeChat and it's used a lot by people in the Chinese diaspora and including Americans Canadians trans Americans Chinese Canadians because it's a way to communicate with people back in China and they're just used to if they come out they're used to and that's how they you know they'll keep in touch with people here and so you're actually starting to see examples of censorship of people here by WeChat including in some cases communicate between politicians their constituents or between local news media in Chinese and Australia and how much they're actually there's like almost no reporting that's critical of China in the way that's very different than what's on their main website so you actually start to see that type specially for the Chinese diaspora start to see that sneaking into the West and I can have a real political impact in terms of political candidacies for example I don't know that China and censored are know if you've tried I'm kind of doubtful that you would be able to create a WeChat account for you know a good idea you know you might not you could test that out you might not be able to then reach certain constituencies in the United States even though they're in America here in America and so you see that element starting to infiltrate into the into the West and with you know with some level political ramifications too and then in terms of surveillance absolutely I mean there was recently a report I think that it came out that hikvision Lundy's Chinese companies that including run surveillance in China including these facial recognition cameras in chin Jiang had gotten a contract for the UK Parliament and it wasn't just for the UK Parliament I think it was like some of the building with some of their offices so there was suddenly concern I think it might have been put on hold now because there was suddenly concerned about the really the national security implications of this so I think it's really more that element of the surveillance and this kind of backdoor concerns a rather than censorship per se that you see from some of these Chinese technologies but when you get to questions of Chinese technology being involved in the delivery of content you see that more in Africa now that's what you do start to see censorship because they'll favor chinese state media channels over say the BBC BBC world in terms of like the most affordable package so then you have fewer africans who are watching BBC world and more who are watching chinese state media and you could see that happening in the west but don't know that's gonna happen okay so basically right now it seems like there's a battle going on between sort of the West's free and open Internet model and China's sovereignty based model what will it take for the free and open model to win well it's tricky because one of the problems and I think challenges that we're having is that there are a lot of people even in democracies that are questioning the desirability of having as free and open and Internet as we have and that's where you get to questions I'm regulating Facebook and other social media companies so I think the first thing is really for democracies to to give better more attention to and and thought to how do you maintain the open Internet how do you protect freedom of expression and privacy within their own borders so that there is a more robust model and how do you protect against encroachments from from the Chinese model including into our own societies so for example starting out with you know really looking at WeChat in the United States or in other democracies and making sure in situations where they're violating the First Amendment rights of people here that there's some kind of repercussion that they have to you know Chinese government when they ask foreign companies to censor in China they like to say well the companies like to justify well we're working according to local laws well that should really work both ways the the Tencent should be following local laws here and they should be allowing Chinese Americans and Chinese Canadians and Chinese Australians to have a free and open communication on WeChat and if not then they should be fined or should you know be sued or something like that like any company the other company would be so I think that those are a few of the things in terms of really making sure that we're protecting our systems against Chinese government encroachment and China and you know private company encroachment and and creating a more robust system of protecting Internet freedom at home and then I think finding ways to support Chinese people's you know desire for a free internet because there are a lot of Chinese people who would like a free Internet we see that when we publish to China Media Bowl and we hear from our readers and when we work with people who are you know circumvention tools to reach people in China there are millions we estimated there were 20 to 30 million Chinese people who use various tools to jump the firewall in 2018 to access uncensored information now in the country at one point whatever billion that's not a lot but it could probably be a lot more and there's a constituency that is interested and the more people learn about how censorship worked and how partial their information environment is we've found in our surveys and from academic studies the more likely they are to want to seek out uncensored information so there's still a lot more to be done in terms of having Chinese people be granted greater access to a free and open Internet so the Chinese people might be the biggest market for free and open nature yes and actually I think it's really unfortunate that companies like Facebook or Google are investing in developing ways of trying to get into the Chinese market and have like a censored search engine like dragon fly rather than imagine if all that money was invested in in either supporting existing circumvention tools or designing some other type of tools that would allow Chinese people to access the Internet freely because ultimately these companies would benefit they make their money off of users like they don't it doesn't have to be the Chinese government that grants American tech companies you know access to the holy grail of the Chinese internet market they could be taking a piece of the pie themselves just by some getting more people out of the firewall well thank you Sarah that was that was incredibly enlightening sure I'm glad thanks for having me you

47 thoughts on “High-Tech Dystopia: Internet Censorship in China | Sarah Cook | China Uncensored

  1. China built this firewall in order to protect its own citizens from being incited by some western countries with an ulterior motive. As a matter of fact, a lot of countries are learning this system from us and they don't want to be intervened in the internal affairs. And America always thinks whatever America does is right and don't allow any other different opinions and actions. We can only your arrogance.

  2. I think China's censorship is just mimicking that of the west. Most countries have their politically sensitive topics that people go to jail for speaking too loudly about. Germany openly prosecutes dissidents who dare question the official truth surrounding the circumstances of e.g. WW2 or the current migrant crisis.

  3. youtube, twitter, facebook all deplatforming and banning people for their opinions, often factual opinions. UK police regularly visiting people for tweets etc and now jailing people for ill defined 'hate speech' (a communist concept). Google and the others collecting data and selling it; shadow banning, search result manipulation, political and psychological profiling, eavesdropping into private communications, all are rampant in the west. Also, CCTV cameras literally everywhere and banks now starting to suspend accounts based on reports of users opinions being 'non conformist'… China and the west seem to be moving in a parallel line.

  4. China is practicing their spying in Borneo they are going to indoctrinate orangatangs. So far the orangs are Idgaf. Thechinks have learned to stay off line while fellating gongs. This is making the censors cross

  5. Hi-tech dystopia…all thanks to the huge trade imbalances for four decades…so that the experiment can kickstart in China instead of US, because they can’t do it here…yet

  6. 说中国输出维权主义,看看全世界有几个共产主义国家不就一目了然了。我从来没有相信过一个法轮功节目做的任何有关于中国的节目。美国输出制度的方法让全世界人民胆战心惊,战争战争,然而这些国家比以前更加混乱了,恐怖主义都是从这些国家兴起的,真实可笑至极。

  7. Regarding the Daily People: "Will rare earths become a counter weapon for China to hit back against the pressure the United States has put on for no reason at all?"
    I remember all those cyber attacks on US military and companies, the drug fentanyl.
    Can you please make a video about the other reasons this trade deal has come to life?

  8. At least the Chinese actually protect their own assets by not letting other countries bully them, but property in their territory, etc. It’s also awesome that they can get shit done in a short period of time without arguing like idiots. Example: railways, highways, skyscrapers. Are there flaws? Of course. A ton of corruption, but the USA and Europe has far more blood on their hands than China has.

  9. The evil that China does has only the bounds of the money the world sends it for its slave labor. China is nothing but evil, an evil tyranny that must be isolated, boycotted, and destroyed.

  10. "Entire departments whose job is basically to identify and censor content, and in some cases specifically promote other content."
    When did this become a video on Youtu- ooooooh….

  11. Chris……do a segment on China rare earth materials. They currently mined and produced 80% of rare earth materials and are willing to STOP selling to the US in the escalation trade war!!

    Winnie the Pooh toured the mines last week and threatened the US by saying…“Don’t Say We Didn’t Warn You”

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