Table of Contents

Comment Icon0 Since the commercial introduction of the Internet in China, the Chinese government has devised a barrage of regulations covering almost every corner of the Internet market. For these regulations to be effective, China’s Public Security Bureau (PSB) produced the “Computer Information Network and Internet Security, Protection and Management Regulations” in 1997, which placed most of the responsibility for monitoring, reporting and preventing politically subversive use of the Internet upon local Internet service providers (ISPs). Whenever violations occur, ISP would be required to assist the PSB in investigations, by providing information on the suspect’s online activities. Typically deemed as “invasion of privacy” by most democratic nations, this particular piece of regulation becomes especially thorny for American Internet-based businesses operating in mainland China.

Comment Icon0 In September 2000, the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) added a license targeting Internet content providers (ICPs), aptly named the ICP record (Chinese: ICP 备案). ICPs refer to organizations or individuals who provide publicly available content on the web, or who provide platforms on which users can communicate and converse with one another (e.g., chatrooms and bulletin board systems), or on which users can create and share text, photographs, audio and video (blogging services, photo- and video-sharing sites, podcasting and audio-sharing services, etc.).

Comment Icon0 The ICP license permits China-based websites to operate in China, and these ICP records appear as license numbers at the bottom of the front page of Chinese websites. The license can be obtained through a simple registration at www.miibeian.gov.cn , where relevant information about the website owner, its content, the hosting provider, etc. needs to be provided (China Hosting Blog, 2009). By the letter of the law, all websites with their own domain names that operate inside China are required to obtain a license, and China-based Internet service providers are required to block the site if a license is not acquired within a grace period. If an ICP wants to maintain its business license to operate in China, it is expected to prevent the appearance of politically objectionable content through automated means, or to police content being uploaded by users for unacceptable material, which is then taken down manually by company employees (Wang, 2007).

Comment Icon0 The result of this has led many ISPs and content providers to implemented self-censoring policies, including going to the extent of paying employees to lead “armies” of volunteers who patrol chatrooms and bulletin boards, ferreting out risky political commentaries, foul language and unwanted advertisements (Tsui, 2001). Known as “Big Mamas” in China, these paid, powerful moderators are likened to the Orwellian “Big Brother” in the Western nations.

Comment Icon0 In order to minimize reprimands from China’s security organs and keep their licenses in good standing, BBS and blog-hosting services also maintain lists of words and phrases that either cannot be posted or which cause monitoring software to “flag” the content for manual removal by employees. Meanwhile, search engine businesses themselves maintain lists of thousands of words, phrases and web addresses to be filtered out of search results, so that links to politically objectionable websites do not even appear on the search engine’s pages. As a result, the user is prevented from knowing that the forbidden content exists at all (Xinhua News, 2006a; French, 2006). Since the Chinese government does not provide such sensitive lists directly to Internet businesses, the method of censorship is left up to companies themselves. Through educated guesswork as well as trial and error, companies generate their “block-lists” based on what they know to be politically sensitive, what they are told at meetings with Chinese officials, and complaints they may receive from Chinese authorities in response to the appearance of politically objectionable search results (Pan, 2006; Xiao, 2004a)

Comment Icon0 As evidence of how developed these self-generated block-lists are, a list of politically “sensitive” words used for censorship and monitoring at China’s largest search engine, Baidu, was discovered on 11 May 2009. The 13 categories of politically sensitive words, including those related to “counter-revolutionary” activities, human rights and appeals, the Tiananmen Square Massacre, Falungong, ethnic and race relations, military secrets, and organ harvesting. Since Baidu claims about 63% of the online search market share, this affects the majority of Chinese netizens and how they view the world from the China’s cyberspace (Epoch Times, 2009).

Comment Icon0 Affirming China’s Internet regulatory practices, Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House, stated that “[t] he Chinese government is hoping to enjoy the benefits of the global economy without jeopardizing its political control”. From a Freedom House report entitled “Speak No Evil: Mass Media Control in Contemporary China” (2006), it was highlighted how senior media managers appointed by the CCP are responsible for the news content of the media organizations they oversee, and how they are expected to censor content deemed unfavorable. These media managers’ career prospects depend on their effectiveness in producing media content that is both attractive to consumers and politically uncontroversial. Managers, editors and journalists’ salaries are determined in large part by the nature of the news they produce. Christopher Walker, director of studies at Freedom House, summed it up when he said “[t]he old system of control relied primarily on repression and direct censorship. The new Beijing model relies on carrots and sticks and increasingly on self-censorship” (Freedom House, 2006). Ultimately, these Internet companies are doing the government’s work by stifling access to information. Instead of being censored, they have taken on the role of censor.

Chapter 5.2.3 – Markets: Delegation of Censorship to Domestic Businesses

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