Unfortunately, the obstacles from government faced by journalists and bloggers within the United States are only multiplied in nations with fewer democratic tendencies and more overt government control over the dissemination of information.
Most notably, The People’s Republic of China has come down notoriously hard on individuals with the gall to distribute content differing from the Party line. In fact, it is considered treasonous to advocate for any government for China not led by the Communist Party; the nation’s constitution stipulates that the National People’s Congress must be headed by the Communist Party.
In an effort to ensure material subversive to the interests of the Communist Party is not spread on the internet, the authoritarian Politburo of China has employed an advanced system of internet policing; blocking the IP addresses, and the ability of readers to access websites containing dissident information.
Facilitating this process of stamping out opposition websites from the Chinese online community have been two of the biggest names in the American Internet community; Google and Yahoo. These two mega-corporations have been more than happy to become complicit with the despotic policies emanating from Beijing in order to gain a toe-hold in the ever-expanding market that is the Chinese online community.
As unrest spread throughout Tibet in 2008, a region annexed by China in 1950, Google configured its Chinese search engine to filter out words including Tibet Independence, Dalai Lama and democracy, helping the Chinese Politburo limit the flow of information regarding government atrocities in the Himalayan backlands of the People’s Republic.
Additionally, Google and Yahoo have not hesitated to block user access to individual dissidents within the Communist state. For example, an article in The Times from February of 2008 discusses the fate of Professor Guo Quan. Quan, formerly a professor of Ancient Chinese Literature and the Second Sino-Japanese War, found his name had been completely removed from the google.cn portal and the Chinese Yahoo! search engine. This action occurred after Quan declared his position as Chairman of the underground New People’s Party, a political entity opposing the rule of the Communist Party and claiming 10 million supporters.
The willingness of both Google and Yahoo to comply with the whims of a totalitarian regime sets a dangerous precedent. One that greatly imperils not only the ability of content producers to opine on questionable government activities, but also limits the ability of a citizenry to become informed about the actions of their governments.
Two years later, in 2010, Google showed no signs of distancing itself from the despotic inclinations of the communist leadership in Beijing. An article from the Sydney Morning Herald noted how Google initially opposed the PRC’s censorship program by automatically switching Chinese users to the company’s Hong Kong based servers, which are subject to far fewer government censors; in March of 2010.
However, the article goes on to reveal the Chinese government renewed the giant search engine’s internet license after Google pledged to obey Chinese laws and stop rerouting users through servers based on the semi-autonomous island of Hong Kong.
Here again the power of profits undermine the ability of an entity, in this case a private corporation, to stand up for civil liberties. Initially, Google opposed government restrictions but when the Communist Party threatened to isolate the company from a large market of consumers, Google reevaluated its position and decided to adhere to the demands of the PRC; at the expense of civil liberties, in order to ensure a continuation in profitable business in the Far East’s most populous nation.
It is important to note that Communist China is not the only sovereign state to utilize the influence of Google and Yahoo to hamper online dissent, a critical aspect of the Arab Spring, within their nation. In fact, one famous supranational body employed similar tactics to stifle unfavorable reporting in early 2008.
Matthew Lee, the founder of the blog Inner City Press, found his news website had been removed from Google News on February 13, 2008. According to an e-mail from Google, this action was taken following a complaint Google News received, which stated Inner City Press was a one-man operation; a violation of Google News policy for listed websites.
Alternatively, Lee is adamant that he has one full-time employee and a few volunteers and is open in his stipulations that the United Nations was responsible for his removal from Google News.
Since 2005, Lee has focused his resources on revealing the widespread internal corruption at the world’s most prominent supranational organization. Specifically, Lee has targeted the United Nations Development Programme and their involvement with several failed disarmament programs in sub-Saharan Africa in 2006.
Nevertheless, Lee was allowed to opine on the UN and UNDP with no complaints from Google News until 2008. It was not until after Google announced its partnership with the UNDP to achieve anti-poverty goals in November of 2007 that Lee ran afoul of the powerful corporation.
Less than three months after this partnership was announced Lee’s anti-UN webpage could no longer be accessed throughout Google News.
This may have been a coincidence and the complaint against Inner City Press may have indeed originated from a third party. However, considering Google’s track record of adhering to government pressure for profits, it is not unthinkable that the company would adhere to the will of an associated international organization and limit access to damaging voices of dissent. Especially if one evaluates Google’s affiliation with UN, the elimination of poverty, a hugely beneficial public relations move for the massive search engine.
Google and Yahoo seem quite willing to limit the flow of dissenting opinions in China and at the United Nations. This is an extremely unfortunate scenario and regardless of the profits these companies reap from aligning with the government, it is disheartening to see corporations based in the American Republic, so willing to throw civil liberties out the window.