US Internet Censorship Mirrors China’s

May 5, 2015

Submitted by:  Veronica Coffin

Computer-Code-Spy-Eye-InternetBy J.D. Heyes

Of the world’s great powers, China, is perhaps the most restrictive when it comes to freedom of speech and expression. That said, it should come as little surprise, then, that the Communist Party leadership of China works overtime to monitor, control and censor what the Chinese people are allowed to see on the wide, wide Web.

As noted by McClatchy Papers in a recent piece, that monitoring – the “Great Firewall,” as it is – takes place behind a large, walled-off compound near Beijing’s Forbidden City known as Zhongnanhai. There, technicians answerable to the Party manage China’s 24-hour control of all Internet traffic into, out of, and within the country.

That hasn’t stopped Chinese media activists in the United States, for example, from attempting to breach the Great Firewall. For example, McClatchy said, from a Berkeley, Calif., cottage 5,900 miles from Zhongnanhai, staffers of collect, translate and publish a number of censorship directives that the Chinese Communist Party sends to state-controlled media:

They aggregate breaking news deemed “sensitive” by China’s rulers and highlight the codewords Chinese people invent to get around the censors.

“There is no way you could take all these critical voices and party directives and put them together on one website in China. It would be taken down immediately,” Xiao Qiang, chief editor of China Digital Times and an adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley, told McClatchy. “But outside the Great Firewall you can do that. And that is what we do.”

Welcome to the front lines of the effort to crack censorship in one of the world’s most media-controlled environments.

Xiao founded China Digital Times in 2003 and since then it has become a go-to site for English speakers wanting to keep up with China’s Internet and its 640 million “netizens.” Chinese censors blocked the site in 2006; in 2011 he launched a Chinese language site, but that, too, was eventually blocked. So Xiao and his team now use a number of different methods to make the publication much more accessible in China, including email lists, social media and “mirror sites” that cannot be blocked easily.

In the United States, meanwhile, authoritarians who also want to control narratives, spread propaganda and censor the truth are hard at work doing the same kinds of things that the Chinese censors at Zhongnanhai do. Here are some examples of how U.S. Internet access is controlled, altered or censored outright:

Google censors alternative medicine and other subjects

In 2010, Alan Davidson, then-Director of public policy for the media giant, called for firm action to end censorship of the Internet.

“The growing problem for Internet censorship is not isolated to one country or one region,” Davidson said before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (ironically enough). “No single company and no single industry can tackle Internet censorship on its own.”

Since then, however, Google has censored an anti-war web site, blocked access to vitamins and natural mineral supplements, and has used undue, unusually generous access to the Obama administration to, perhaps, blunt the impact of a Federal Trade Commission investigation into alleged antitrust practices, in which Google may have skewed its search results to favor its own products over those of other advertisers.


The world’s “free Internet encyclopedia” has been caught altering information, censoring data outright and propagandizing, as evidenced by one of its co-founders changing Wikipedia entries to hide his connection to the porn industry.

The Internet “kill switch”

In November 2013, a federal court ruled that the Department of Homeland Security must disclose previously secret plans the massive agency developed for an Internet kill switch – “Standard Operating Procedure 303,” also known as the “Internet kill switch” from Homeland Security. The protocols govern shutting down wireless networks to prevent the remote detonation of bombs, the Washington Times reported.

When you throw in the new “Net neutrality” rules, the Department of Justice seizing Internet domains without due process and so forth, you can begin to see how the U.S. is already a long way down the road to Chinese-style censorship.


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