Although there have been rumours flying around which suggest that the EU is introducing worldwide internet censorship laws, we are yet to experience widespread censorship in the UK. By “censorship”, what I mean is that the UK government doesn’t dictate what we can look at online – they may monitor it to an extent, but for the most part we have the freedom to look at whatever we want, even if the government might not necessarily agree with it.
However, we often take our free reign on the internet for granted, as in many areas of the world the government largely limits what its citizens look at out of fear of rebellion, corruption and freedom of thought. One of the most infamous examples of such a government system is in China.
China’s internet is highly censored through its “Great Firewall” web filter, with many of the social media sites, search engines and streaming services we take for granted as being part of our everyday life are completely blocked in mainland China.
Some will argue that due to most of these websites being non-Chinese, it isn’t much censorship and most internet-users in China feel consequently unaffected by the ban. However, amongst the list of websites banned are the most universal and well-known social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and countless other social media sites which we take for granted as part of our everyday life. With these websites being so intrinsic in how we connect with other people and the wider world, one could argue that Chinese residents not having access to them is a form of deprivation.
In recent years, it’s worth noting that the function of social media has changed slightly. As well as being an essential way of staying connected to friends and loved ones who aren’t immediately in your geographical periphery, it has also arguably become a source of knowledge. These days, breaking news isn’t announced initially on the television or in a print paper. Usually, we instead find out breaking news in real-time through a tweet or a Facebook post. As well as this, consider how many news articles you see when you scroll through your news feed. These days, news outlets survive on having a good social media presence, as that is where most people go to find their information.
Consequently, one could argue that as well as being isolated from friends and loved ones, the residents of China are deprived of accessing real-time breaking news as a result of their inability to access social media. Whilst the spread of news and information is spearheaded by individuals on social media, in China, the residents have to rely solely on media outlets, such as Weibo, that are regulated by the government. This means that it can be said that they are controlling the information that floods into the country and ensuring that certain narratives are being made whilst others are erased.
At this point, it’s hard to forget that China remains under communist rule, with their Communist Party being the sole ruling party of mainland China. While countries such as Stalin’s USSR had a history of censorship, it’s arguable that by restricting China’s internet access, the Chinese government is bringing that censorship to the 21st century.