Published on Jan 14, 2010
I was delighted to hear that Google has finally thrown down the gauntlet in China. No longer will it be complicit in denying freedom of information and expression to Chinese citizens. Google is now on the right side of the moral equation. But will it change anything?
Like Iran and Burma, China has modernized and adapted its authoritarianism for the 21st Century. Rather than simply suppress news and information, it tries to influence online debate with the tactics akin to those deployed by spammers and fraudulent marketers. By some estimates, there are as many as 300,000 Internet police who continuously monitor the Web for comments that run counter to the party’s singular definition of national interests.Meanwhile the government deliberately fosters nationalistic sentiments and pro-party propaganda by enlisting paid commentators and provocateurs like the “Fifty Cent Party” to overwhelm or disrupt undesirable conversations. Incidentally, the term “50 Cent” is not a reference to the rap star; it comes from the fact that Party-backed bloggers are paid 50 mao, or roughly 7 cents, for each “positive” post they make.
In my forthcoming book with Don Tapscott, I argue that Google’s principled stance will only change things if other companies toe the line. It seems that Google is only one of at least 20 other large companies that have been targeted by cyber-attacks recently. These are not just Internet businesses, but companies operating across diverse sectors such as finance and manufacturing. If there was ever a time for them to stand together, it’s now.
If Google leaves by itself (it almost certainly won’t), nothing will happen. Less principled rivals will continue to censor their search results and eventually occupy the space that Google has vacated. If 20 large multinationals take a stand together, it would seriously up ante and pile much more pressure on China’s leaders.
So, is it time for a little collective action?