China's Green Dam Net censorship wall looks like it may be about to fracture, with interesting timing: A rare leak has revealed the government officially plans to use the Net itself for propagandizing at home and overseas.
A report on the BBC News, sourced from publications inside China, notes that the Green Dam Youth Escort system has lost its Beijing project team because of a lack of government funding, and a partner team in Henan is also set to shutter for the same reason. Green Dam had been controversial right from the start--the original requirement was that every PC inside China come equipped with the OS-level censorship and monitoring code dating from July 2009, but this was altered when complaints about the costs and free-speech implications poured in both from China and the rest of the world.
Then this year the Dam faced a more amusing, and potentially more serious, challenge: It emerged that elements of the code, which itself was designed to protect copyrights among other tasks, had been wholesale copied from software written by a U.S. security firm. Critics even argued the Dam inserted critical vulnerabilities into a PC's OS that made it more susceptible to hacking.
And now what may be happening is that the Chinese authorities are letting Green Dam wither away without comment. It's a simple way to move forward without having to admit to an almighty screw-up.
But an almighty screw-up seems to have happened elsewhere in the Chinese government anyway. A rare leak from inside the Communist Party--the text from a private speech by the country's top Net official Wang Chen--has made its way onto the Web. It reveals that the government will be using the Net to consolidate power, assist in "our diplomatic battles" and safeguard "national interests." By clever use of "soft propaganda" Chinese leaders can even use the Net to "create an international public opinion environment that is objective, beneficial and friendly to us."
While it seems that the government has come around to the notion of using the Web for PR efforts, it has to be said that a leak revealing Machiavellian plans for the Web isn't exactly good news. Maybe Apple's embittered PR unit can offer the Chinese government a tip or two on how to deal with this mess.
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