Social media has become a part of our day-to-day lives. In fact, for a lot of people the first thing they do in the morning is roll over, grab their phone and scroll through their social media apps. Social media allows us to communicate with others and stay in touch with the world on a larger scale. It gives everyone the ability to voice their opinions and discuss current issues. Social media represents a greater medium of free speech. Often we use social media platforms to criticise and discuss the developments of our governments – a right that everyone should have. However, in China there is a firewall which prohibits citizens to use websites such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The firewall which has been set up to prevent citizens from accessing these sites has been dubbed ‘The Great Firewall’, a metaphor which resembles The Great Wall of China. As Tsui (2007) puts it, “The Great Wall was originally constructed to keep the “barbarians” out of China. Similarly, the Great Firewall metaphor signifies China’s desire to block “undesirable” content from reaching the People’s Republic.” Tsui (2007) argues that although Chinese Government do not want the internet to allow the People’s Republic to gain any sort of control they also realise that the technology it provides is empirical to the modernisation of the nation. This poses the question of whether it is possible to separate the internet from its democratising values. To date, the Chinese government has been powerful enough to control internet content and filtering to install Chinese values. Although they have been successful thus far it seems almost impossible to continuously censor the internet. Perhaps just as the Great Wall of China fell, so too will the Great Firewall.
Gary King (2013), the Director of Qualitative Research at Harvard and conducted an experiment with a team whereby they discovered that a lot of speech on Chinese social media was surprisingly free and opinionated. All content was scrutionaly watched by censors – the catch being that they were only looking for specific types of free speech which could lead to a collective action outside the internet which may threaten the government. (Naughton, 2015) King et al. (2013) found that even when an individual was praising the government their post could still be censored if they are in anyway related to live collection events. What this confirms is that the firewall is not so much intent on censoring criticism against the governments as it is the possibility of people grouping together and forming allegiance against the government on a large scale. It is often seen in Western social media that it undoubtedly has the potential to bring together protests worldwide which can force the hand of those in power. It is this factor which the Chinese state fears as it could encourage the demand for democratisation.
Tsui, L, 2007, ‘An Inadequate Metaphor: The Great Firewall and Chinese Internet Censorship’, Global Dialogue, vol. 9.1/2, pp.60-68
Naughton, J., 2015. The Fascinating Truth Behind All Those ‘Great Firewall of China’ Headlines.The Guardian. [online] Available at: <http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/14/truth-behind-great-firewall-of-china-headlines> [Accessed 25 Mar. 2015].
KING, G., PAN, J. and ROBERTS, M., 2013. How Censorship in China Allows Government Criticism but Silences Collective Expression. Am Polit Sci Rev, 107(02), pp.326-343.