Chinese networked authoritarianism

While not necessarily Mozilla-related, Rebecca MacKinnon’s most recent blog post on the White Paper issued by the Chinese government on the Internet is a must-read for those who care about the Internet in China or censorship of the Internet.

China’s Internet White Paper: networked authoritarianism in action

Thus China is pioneering what I call “networked authoritarianism.” Compared to classic authoritarianism, networked authoritarianism permits – or shall we say accepts the Internet’s inevitable consequences and adjusts – a lot more give-and-take between government and citizens than in a pre-Internet authoritarian state. While one party remains in control, a wide range of conversations about the country’s problems rage on websites and social networking services. The government follows online chatter, and sometimes people are even able to use the Internet to call attention to social problems or injustices, and even manage to have an impact on government policies. As a result, the average person with Internet or mobile access has a much greater sense of freedom – and may even feel like they have the ability to speak and be heard – in ways that weren’t possible under classic authoritarianism. It also makes most people a lot less likely to join a movement calling for radical political change. In many ways, the regime actually uses the Internet not only to extend its control but also to enhance its legitimacy.

The White Paper is a clear articulation of the Chinese government’s long-standing position that nation-states should have “sovereignty” over all aspects of the Internet – human or equipment or signal – that reside within or pass through Chinese sovereign territory.

The White Paper’s message is that the Chinese government is not running scared from the Internet. It is embracing the Internet head-on, intends to be a leader in its global evolution, and intends to assert its influence on how the global Internet is governed and regulated.

In addition to Rebecca’s post, if you are interested in these issues be sure to read Evan Osnos’ (New Yorker) interview of Tim Wu (Columbia Univ.) on this same topic:

Can China Maintain “Sovereignty” Over the Internet?

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