6.18.2009

Reverberations

LiB's resident old China hand, Brad V., sends me this interesting bit from the Financial Times:
The city of Beijing is planning to hire thousands of internet censors in a fresh sign of the authorities’ attempts to tighten their grip on cyberspace.

The city will seek to employ at least 10,000 “internet volunteers” before the end of this year to monitor “harmful” websites and content, said an official at the municipal authority’s information office.

Chinese local governments and Communist party branches often pay web commentators to influence online opinion. But it is unusual for officials to admit the practice and the big recruitment drive gives a rare view of the resources China uses to try to control the internet.

I expect this is a result of the shockwaves being sent out from Tehran. Consider the language being used lately around the Iranian protests. Canadian and Swiss ambassadors to the country are being criticized for the West's support for Web 2.0:
Iranian officials summoned Canada's top diplomat and the Swiss envoy — who represents U.S. interests — over concern the North American countries are helping destabilize Iran by supporting such social networking sites as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, which the Islamic regime has tried to ban.

Dan Rather sees real parallels between Tiananmen Square and Tehran:
Despite the surface similarities, this is not Tiananmen in 1989. The Christian Science Monitor references the equation, seen on blogs such as Read Write Web, that “Tiananmen + Twitter = Tehran.” The proliferation of information technology and the phenomenon of citizen journalism have made it much harder now to turn the lights out than it was two decades ago. Oral history once kept alive for generations the stories unsanctioned by official propaganda; now social-networking tools have the power to spread the people’s story around the world, instantly.

The HuffPo's Hadi Ghaemi is similarly concerned:
The government is rapidly moving to shut down communication channels amongst Iranians and with the outside world. There are serious fears of a "Tehran Tiananmen" in the coming days. The High Commissioner should move rapidly to send an envoy to Iran to prevent an all-out closure that could lead to serious violence and attacks on protestors undertaken with total impunity. There have already been at least a dozen fatalities due to government forces opening fire.

There's no real flashpoint in China right now similar to the recent election in Iran, but I have little doubt that Hu Jintao and the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party are more than a little jittery at the prospect of more upheaval.