Deng Xiaopeng, reformist leader of the Chinese Communist Party at the end of the 20th century, justified Internet censorship with a famous metaphor: “If you open the window for fresh air, you have to expect some flies to blow in.”
The Chinese government believes that these dissenting, web-based “flies” are poised to upset the political and social stability of the country, as demonstrated by web activism during the Arab Spring. This fear has led to a myriad of regulations resulting in the blocking of websites, the monitoring of citizens’ internet access, and the policing of blog content.
In 2000, the Ministry of Public Security initiated the Golden Shield Project to strike a balance between gaining economic benefits from the information age and shielding its citizens from the seeds of discord. The result: China has the most sophisticated Internet censorship program in the world, and has imprisoned the largest number of cyber-dissidents of any country.
This week, China’s highest court released the rules for punishing online slander. Messages forwarded more than 500 times or read more than 5,000 times can earn the offender up to three years in prison. In order to combat “malicious rumor-mongering,” the police have detained hundreds of microbloggers for spreading false claims.
The Chinese government employs an internet police force of more than 30,000 people, according to The Guardian. Under the purview of the propaganda department, these workers are tasked with anonymously guiding discussion on public bulletin boards.
Yet China’s internet policing apparatus is tenuous. In July, the crash of a high-speed train in China lead to a burst of Internet usage that overloaded the government controls. This year, the number of Internet users in China surpassed the 100 million mark. Judging by this, it is likely that China’s perception of Internet control is only skin deep, or should we say “screen deep.”
Netizens are the latest victims of heavy-handed central planning—this Marxist tendency to draw arbitrary lines as tiny corrections to market uncertainty. Fortunately for these proponents of Internet freedom, the Great Firewall of China is not made of stone.