China’s information dark age may become Russia’s future

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China’s information dark age may become Russia’s future

When Russia blocked Facebook and limited Twitter this month, many Chinese Internet users were taken by surprise. Wait a moment, he said: Russians can use Facebook and Twitter? Both social media platforms have been banned in China since 2009.

By blocking online platforms, shutting down the last remnant of Russia’s independent media and making it a crime to refer to the fighting in Ukraine as war, the Kremlin made it nearly impossible for the Russian people to get free or international news after their invasion. has made it. , Most Russians are taking an alternate reality.

That’s exactly what China has been doing for its 1.4 billion people for years. Almost all major western websites are blocked in the country. A generation of Chinese grew up in an information environment very different from the rest of the world. Mostly, one is left to believe what Beijing says.

“When people ask me what the information environment is like within the Great Firewall,” yaqiu vangoA researcher at Human Rights Watch in New York wrote on Twitter about China’s censored internet, “I say, ‘Imagine the whole country being one giant QAnon.

After years of trial and hesitation, Russia is moving toward harsh Internet censorship, similar to China’s Great Firewall, in order to better control its people. China’s Information The Dark Ages could be Russia’s future.

“What is dark?” asked a user on the Chinese social media platform Weibo. “You can’t speak the truth, and you’re not allowed to see the truth.”

Both countries have a tendency to learn the worst from each other.

Both Russians and Chinese were deeply wounded by the disastrous eras under communism, which produced tyrants such as Stalin and Mao, the Gulag and labor camps, and man-made famines that killed millions.

Now Russia is learning from China how to control its people in the age of social media.

The Ukraine crisis has only accelerated a process that began years ago. In late 2015, China and Russia signed a strategic cooperation agreement on Internet governance. A few months later, two of China’s most notorious supporters of censorship traveled to Moscow to propagate their views of the Internet to their Russian counterparts.

“Unlimited freedom can lead to terrorism,” Lu Wei, China’s Internet Tsar at the time, said His Russian audience on a stage. “If borders exist, they also exist in cyberspace,” said Fang Binxing, known as the “Father of the Great Firewall”.

China has not always been under as tight control as it has under its top leader, Xi Jinping. In the 1990s and 2000s, investigative journalists broke several stories that led to the downfall of government officials and reformed the judiciary. The Internet and social media made it possible for the public to exchange views, debate important topics, and pressure the government to respond to their concerns.

There was censorship – sometimes very strict – and some people went to jail for expressing their political views. But there was little room for freedom of speech, as there was much for Mr. Putin’s regime in Russia.

Then, under Mr. Xi, a new era of control took hold, and it did not stop in the news media and on social media. It reached everything that touches the human mind: books and cartoons, movies and television, music and classes.

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The country controls what textbooks children use, what types of novels authors can publish, and what types of mobile games people can play. And all this is possible because most of the Chinese live in huge information bubbles within the Great Firewall.

The effects are clearly on display in China’s highly pro-Russian, pro-war and pro-Putin sentiment online after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February. Huge numbers of Chinese Internet users have bought into the propaganda that Russian and Chinese propaganda machines feed them.

China’s Twitter-like social media platform Weibo used to be the place to debate democracy and freedom. Now, the biggest influencers on Weibo are state-owned media outlets such as the People’s Daily, The Global Times, and China Central Television. Bilibili, a user-generated video site that used to be popular among young gamers and comic and anime fans, is now filled with the nationalist youth known as Little Pink.

Maintaining a presence on Weibo requires a lot of perseverance for someone with an independent mind. A law scholar I know set up 343 Weibo accounts between 2009 and 2014, only to have them removed one by one. Some of them survived only a few minutes. Many people left social media because they could not stand the government trolls and abuses of the little ones. They don’t even want to take the risk of going to jail for a single post.

The news media has had to backtrack even more.

After the major earthquake that struck Sichuan province in May 2008, several Chinese news outlets sent journalists there, despite restrictions from the Central Propaganda Department. His powerful, emotional coverage informed the nation of the tragedy and raised questions about the quality of many school buildings.

This type of reporting has been going on for a long time. When news happens, the Chinese public has no choice but to accept the government’s version of the truth.

In January, when the government of the northwestern city of Xi’an imposed a strict lockdown that hasn’t caused chaos and crisis since Wuhan two years ago, some news outlets sent journalists to cover it. The only significant reporting found to the Chinese public was a first-person blog post written by a former investigative journalist, known by his pen name Jiang Xue.

A few weeks later, when the public was outraged by a video of a woman strapped to a door shack, they had many questions about her, including whether she was a victim of human trafficking. No journalist was able to conduct an independent investigation. Despite the government issuing five statements about her case, many people are skeptical and worried they may never know her true identity.

State censors examine books, videos, movies, TV series and any creative material more closely before reaching their audiences. The goal is to ensure that everyone, especially the younger generation, share the same values.

A well-known Chinese intellectual has written three books that may never be published. Another eminent scholar has written five books, which have no hope of crossing censorship.

On Chinese TV, hip-hop singers and soccer players wear long sleeves or use makeup to cover up their tattoos, and men’s earrings are smudged so that they don’t make a “bad impression” on young people.

China still wants to offer some Western entertainment content, but only in a clean format. In the sitcom “Friends”, Ross never explained to his parents that he had separated from his wife because she was a lesbian living with another woman. There were no homosexual scenes in the Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Chinese censors wore a black dress over the naked body of the heroine in “The Shape of Water”.

Creative geniuses are now signing contracts that contain clauses that make them liable for engaging in unethical behavior or making politically sensitive remarks. Celebrities can clean up their online presence by bad divorce, tax evasion, hiring a prostitute, or for no apparent reason.

The release of a highly anticipated Chinese thriller was delayed last Christmas as one of the film’s lead actors was accused of taking drugs in 2015. It didn’t matter that the charges against him were dropped. Had to redo all his shots.

I suspected young people would want to watch hardcore propaganda movies. Like the Russians in the 1980s and 1990s, my generation could not run away from them so fast. But I was wrong.

Last year, “The Battle at Lake Changjin,” a government-sponsored film dramatizing the defeat of the United States during the Korean War, broke box office records in China.

The most frustrating aspect of the dark ages of information is mass amnesia.

Young censors are so ignorant of China’s forbidden history that they must be taught before starting work. Otherwise, they wouldn’t even know to see the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy protests, or the references to dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.

Some young people believe that it is their responsibility to report to the authorities on speeches that they did not consider to be in line with Communist Party values. some teachers He has lost his job or been punished after his students reported his “politically incorrect” speech.

Last summer, a local state security bureau in the southeastern province of Fujian awarded a college student $1,500 for reporting on an online user spreading “anti-revolutionary information.”

For many Chinese online users, the Great Firewall is seen as essential to prevent information and ideological imposition from the West. And after the Kremlin this month banned several foreign websites, many in China applauded the decision.

Weibo user @icebear_Like_ wrote, “Building a great firewall is a must.” “Ideology is also a battlefield.”

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