China’s authorities hint they’ve made at least one Western company (Google) bend to their will. And it seems elsewhere on the Net, China is more openly resisting modern memes: Apparently Facebook and video game ads are evil.
The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, which the AP calls a “government-backed think tank,” has published a new report dubbed “Development of China’s New Media.” Among its various arguments, the report reserves a special place for social networking sites like Facebook, which apparently carry an inherent risk to Chinese interests. Some of this comes from the very global nature of the sites, which allow free and unfettered communication between disparate individuals and groups and thus carry that threat–oft trotted out by China to defend its censorial habits–of cultural contamination. But the other allegation is much more shocking: According to the CASS, Facebook is a tool for Western governments to deliberately stir up political unrest and seed “alien” cultural and political notions into the Chinese population.
The source of this info is U.S. officials themselves, anonymously cited in the report as saying social nets are an “invaluable tool” for overthrow of foreign regimes. Perhaps this phrase is connected with the ongoing military and hearts-and-minds effort in Iraq and Afghanistan, but by removing the context the CASS report is pulling a huge Big Brother-style PR maneuver. The AP notes that the CASS quotes U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates as well, using his comment that new communications technology is a “huge strategic asset.” The CASS further remarks that Facebook and services like Twitter were used for “political subversion” in Iran following the controversial (and potentially rigged) elections in 2009.
Though it’s extremely plausible that elements of the U.S. intelligence community do have activities that use Facebook and Twitter, it’s almost certainly not a concerted massive-scale effort. However, with so many millions of folk using social networks, the best you can do to “politically subvert” a community is to gently steer it with occasional posts. But if one defines “subversion” as being any communication that’s not under government control, then maybe…
In result, the CASS recommends a “step up” in “supervision of social networking sites”. Which means more censorship. This shouldn’t be surprising, as the Chinese Ministry of Culture has just begun to clamp down on what it calls “vulgar marketing” of computer games inside China–profane and violent ads is the problem, apparently. The plan is scheduled to kick in August 1st, with plans to “criticize and educate” local games makers who exceed socially or politically acceptable norms. Good luck keeping closing the Pandora’s box of digital entertainment and communication, China.
To keep up with this news, follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.