■ 12:16 (UTC±00:00), 05 FEB 2015 | GBR LSE, CENTRAL LONDON
I attended and presented a talk on Invisible Censorship in China at the London School of Economics and Political Science in the afternoon hours of 04 February 2015. I also was part of the panel which took questions about the debate.
My presentation wasn’t an easy one to give — it wasn’t as if I was ever a “problem” in China, but far more because in Chinese cyberspace, there are an alarming number of blocked “false positives”. As someone who had to scale the wall, I had to speak from experience without the emotions — and that I did, by presenting as objective a view of the matter as possible.
The blocks in China, I argued, are certainly an irritant, but they form part of the Internet in China. I argued that the late 2014 term “internet sovereignty” was in fact a non-topic as it had existed de facto for much earlier — in that the Internet in China was already governed by Beijing’s policies whenever you used it inside China or had content stored on servers based there.
It was easy to dismiss China as being “wholly” filtered, so I made a particular point in getting the message through that only sensitive and problematic content (politics, religion, “cults”, porn, amongst others) were likely to be filtered. I was invited to do a two-hour radio show in 2012 where I was told you were allowed to, in front of the live microphone, whinge about parts of your (non-political!) trip that didn’t work out right, so they were much looser on the restrictions when politics was not at stake. Even when politics were involved, the population were “mobilised” already, which caused visible headaches for the corrupt — imagine being caught red-handed as a private citizen took a picture of you violating party discipline!
I also outlined three challenges and “ways out” for China in this day and age when most of the Anglophone media tend to equate it with outright censorship: government can either choose to tackle, tame, or harness what’s on the Web, where I was in favour of the final option — listening in and harnessing the views of the population.
The questions were quite challenging — they were as political as they were technical. My views remained that, even though the current situation in China is far from ideal, the current state of affairs remained one that was best kept as-is and improved at the same time. Replacing it with a completely foreign system was out of the question, as it would go against what the Chinese were used to (politically as apolitically) and risk causing “ripple effects” that could affect others.
The event was hosted by the China Development Society of LSE, an influential body in the university, and featured Professor Charlie Beckett, director of Polis, as chair, and Professor Hugo de Burgh, director of the China Media Centre at the University of Westminster, as the other speaker. Around 80 turned up and it was a memorable afternoon of debate and learning. ■ ■ ■