China isn’t the only country censoring the web
Last weekend, that supreme and unimpeachable force for worldwide progress, Apple Computer, withdrew perhaps 60 Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) from its App Store in China.
That meant Chinese users of the Web would no longer be able to hide from censors working for the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The move is bad news for free speech, and for Chinese out to learn more about their leaders and the outside world.
VPNs help anyone dissenting from the policies of a repressive regime. They allow you to access Web content, but through a separate server. By this means they hide the unique number, or Internet Protocol address, that comes with the computer you’ve bought (with exceptions for private computers on home or corporate networks not directly connected to the Internet, IP address numbers range from 188.8.131.52 to 255.255.255.254).
So if you’re in China and can still manage to get hold of a VPN app, you can read commentary about China on the websites of right-wing Radio Free Asia, or the BBC and The Economist – in a way you can’t do without such an app. You’ll need a VPN because the CCP doesn’t want you to read what it doesn’t agree with.
The CCP’s rampant blocking of Web content it deems impermissible is weakness masquerading as strength. It betrays a condescending distrust of the Chinese people’s ability to make up their own minds about what they read. But the CCP is not alone. British prime minister Teresa May has boasted that she is ‘working with social media companies to halt the spread of extremist material and hateful propaganda that is warping young minds’, and that she wants corporations to ‘do more’. Indeed, leaders of the G7 group of advanced economies – the US, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and Canada – have, along with a host of social media companies, agreed to similar measures.
In fact, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was ahead of May. As early as 2015, Merkel notoriously prevailed upon Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to do his bit, take down posts critical of her policy toward immigrants, and so join the unedifying wall of consensus on the issue she got the compliant German media to build. And in 2017, every page you get with Google in Europe ends with the legend ‘Some results may have been removed under data protection law’. That’s the EU in action nowadays.
Apple’s craven obedience to Beijing’s autocratic demands typifies the general stance of the West. From the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 to Beijing’s abduction of Hong Kong booksellers today, the ‘free world’ has barely murmured about Stalinist repression in China. Yes, British foreign secretary Boris Johnson greeted the 20th anniversary of Chinese rule over Hong Kong with the limp hope that it would ‘make further progress towards a more democratic and accountable system of government’. But with blocking the Web, Western IT firms and politicians know which side their bread is buttered on – whether kowtowing to Beijing, or worsening state censorship at home.
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