Why the Chinese Olympic Net censorship won't work (unless the Western press wants it to)

China has decided to censor journalists' access to sites the government doesn't like. But how can this possibly work?

The more you tell people they can't do something, the more they'll try to do it.

It's the same with drugs. It's the same with turning your cell phone off at the movies. And it's the same with censorship.

There are many journalists lifting their laptop lids in horror at discovering that the Chinese government is now dancing the censorship two-step .

After all, the journalists wail, the Chinese, when they were bidding for the games, promised open Internet access. They promised it would be 80 degrees and sunny every day, too.

However the Internet, just like the commenters on this very site, has a robust constitution.

So perhaps it's worth considering how this supposed censorship will actually work.

According to those who are already busy carving their protests in digital stone, any sites with the dreaded word "Tibet" in their URL will be blocked. Same goes for the subversive propagandists at Amnesty International.

This is not an Olympic Secret Service agent. I don't think so anyway. CC Tama Leaver

Yet what is to stop Jonathan Jockstrap, intrepid journalist employed by the Western Significant Times, from e-mailing his close friend in, say, some sickeningly uncensored Western country?

Jockstrap asks the friend to access one of the banned sites, copy and paste any relevant information to his e-mail, and send it right along with his best wishes.

Jockstrap will then have circumvented the ban and be able to report on anything he chooses.

Will the Chinese be upset? Well, only after they have read the malevolent (to them) Jockstrap column.

That's because they will surely not be willing to censor every personal e-mail (and phone call, for that matter). Could they possibly have employed enough censors? Would they possibly risk the ridicule this might bring? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But they surely cannot entirely stop communication between journalists and their editors and friends outside of China.

It's so easy to blame the Chinese (although I have to say they did themselves no favors by having their own neurotic Secret Service people running alongside the Olympic Torch and barging into conscientiously acquiescent objectors in San Francisco, for example).

But it will be relatively simple for the Western journalists to see if their own personal e-mails and other communications are being tampered with. (Phone call between journalist and editor: "You sent me a naked picture of your new boyfriend? What naked picture?")

And it will be relatively simple for the Western press to publish anything that the supposedly banned sites are saying about the games, the Chinese government, the dubious powers of Chinese medicine, or the real age of some of the Chinese competitors.

The real question is whether they will want to. The real question is whether there will be a lot of athletic spiking going on in newsrooms around the world.

The likelihood is that if we don't read anything that even borders on the controversial from the world's free press, it might not be the Chinese who will be the censors.

It might equally be the politically sensitive, revenue-reverential folks back home.

Click here for more stories on tech and the Beijing Olympics.

 

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