Aren’t You Glad You Don’t Live in North Korea?

It’s election day in the US, or at least it will be in a few hours. Instead of talking about politics, I want to return to the topic of internet censorship that I brought up a few posts ago.

Reporters without Borders is organizing an online protest against internet censorship. They’ve highlighted the world’s worst countries in Internet freedom.

Here is what they had to say about China:

China unquestionably continues to be the world’s most advanced country in Internet filtering. The authorities carefully monitor technological progress to ensure that no new window of free expression opens up, After initially targeting websites and chat forums, they nowadays concentrate on blogs and video exchange sites. China now has nearly 17 million bloggers. This is an enormous number, but very few of them dare to tackle sensitive issues, still less criticise government policy. Firstly, because China’s blog tools all include filters that block “subversive” word strings. Secondly, because the companies operating these services, both Chinese and foreign, are pressured by the authorities to control content. They employ armies of moderators to clean up the content produced by the bloggers. Finally, in a country in which 52 people are currently in prison for expressing themselves too freely online, self-censorship is obviously in full force. Just five years ago, many people thought Chinese society and politics would be revolutionised by the Internet, a supposedly uncontrollable medium. Now, with China enjoying increasing geopolitical influence, people are wondering the opposite, whether perhaps China’s Internet model, based on censorship and surveillance, may one day be imposed on the rest of the world.

And North Korea:

Like last year, North Korea continues to be the world’s worst Internet black hole. Only a few officials are able to access the web, using connections rented from China. The country’s domain name – .nk – has still not been launched and the few websites created by the North Korean government are hosted on servers in Japan or South Korea. It is hard to believe this is simply the result of economic difficulties in a country which today is capable of manufacturing nuclear warheads. The North Korean journalists who have found refuge in South Korea are very active on the Internet, especially on the website.

North Korea really frightens me. Have you seen or read reports coming out of there? The people are probably the most brainwashed I’ve ever seen. A while ago I read in a Spanish newspaper a story about a Spaniard who somehow became a North Korean citizen. He came to Spain as a representative of North Korea. If you could read what he said you’d be shocked. He spoke about how NK is the best nation on the earth. Everything there is perfect. There is no crime, only comradely-cooperation. Everyone has food and a home and work. They don’t have the evil decadences of the West like TV, books or the Internet, and that is fine with them because they know they are better off. It was really disturbing.

Other “Internet Black Holes” are Belarus, Burma, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam.

These countries are judged to be black holes because a) the internet is heavily censored and/or b) cyber-dissidents have been detained or imprisoned.

Also, FYI, Yahoo is also a target of the protest because, according to Global Voices Online, “Yahoo! is a special target for RSF because the company’s has cooperated with Chinese authorities in investigations of journalists, supplying information that helped lead to the arrest of Shi Tao, a journalist serving a ten year sentence for “divulging state secrets abroad.””

This was a huge controversy when I was there. I also had personal encounters with China’s Internet censorship, thanks in a huge part to good old Google. I found that if you typed in certain search terms, you would get information different from other parts of the world, and sometimes, after one or two searches, Google would just not function anymore. (Especially when looking at images.)

One famous Google search blockage: Within China, if you type in “Tienanmen Square” in the image search, you will be greeted with photos of happy tourists posing in the square. Outside of China, this same search will lead you directly to photos of the infamous 1989 massacre. Most of my students had never heard of the incident. One student who has a great deal of family in the US, told me that he learned nothing of it in school, but a family friend who claims to have been there told him what happened. Our tour guide in Beijing told my family – we all know something happened here, but don’t ask me about it in the square because there are plain-clothed policemen listening.

If you should ever find yourself confronted with a blocked web page, do what I did everyday in China, visit Anonymouse and type in the web page you want to visit.


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