Monday, November 2, 2009

Hanson Chapter 6

This week's reading in the Hanson book discussed the various consequences of new ICT diffusion on the role of nation-states. Hanson does a great job in summarizing the different perspectives on how modern ICTs are affecting national sovereignty and in providing real world examples to illustrate the theories of international communication researchers.

In many of the readings we have done for this class, it is accepted as unavoidable that modern ICTs, especially the Internet, make it more difficult for national governments to control the information flows in and out of their countries, ultimately affecting the ability of national governments, particularly in authoritarian states, to effectively govern. In chapter 6, Hanson shows that this is not necessarily the case by highlighting the current ICT governance situation in China.

She notes that the Communist Party of China has attempted to control the flow of information on the Internet with an array of technical, legal, political, and psychological approaches. The restrictive infrastructure for the Internet system in China, referred to as the "Great Firewall of China," is one means of controlling this. The Chinese government also has implemented an extensive and monitoring system in order to enforce Internet regulations. Severe penalties and fines can be administered if prohibited web activities are detected. Hanson also mentions the establishment of a student-run Internet monitoring group pioneered by Shanghai Normal University. This kind of monitoring organization surprised me, since it is run by and targeted at young people. I was surprised by the effectiveness of this mechanism, since in the US, I think we are often led to believe that young people in China, especially young university students, are at the forefront of pushing for democratization and increased freedom and transparency of the Chinese government.

Although it appears that the Chinese government's strategy for regulating the content that Chinese citizens can access has kept much of the information that the government considers subversive off the Internet in China, the ability for savvy and determined Internet users to still circumvent the elaborate Chinese regulatory system exists, and as Hanson quotes one observer as saying, "total control of today's vast, borderless, redundant cyber-architecture is not possible." I wonder at what point will it become too costly for the Chinese government to maintain their expensive and complex system of Internet regulation?


  1. I was also surprised to read about the group at Shanghai Normal University, as a young person, who thinks that our counterparts in China would want to encourage more free speech and open Internet access. I wasn't surprised, though, to learn about the many restrictions the Chinese government places on Internet access, remembering the controversies during the Beijing Olympics last year, where some Western news sites continued to be blocked despite promises to the contrary. Watching media coverage of the controversy here, plus Hanson's treatment of the issue, has definitely made me more aware of the challenges the Chinese face in gaining freer Internet access. But I am cautiously optimistic that people will continue to try to circumvent the system and make it even more borderless, and thus harder for the government to monitor and control.

  2. It is amazing the great lengths governments will go to restrict the media access of its citizens - which speaks to the power communication technology holds. I just watched a film from the Center for Social Media where local Burmese journalists risked life in jail or worse and filmed the 2007 protests in Burma. They sent the footage via satellite to Europe where it was broadcast allowing the world a glimpse into the government oppression of the Burmese people. Without the technology, the world would never have known what was happening in Burma and now there are global groups organized against the Burmese government. This circles back to the issue of global activism which in Burma's case was created or at least reinvigorated by wireless technology.

  3. The case of China also highlights how dependent new media technology is on the user's own agency. One could easily be as misinformed here in the U.S. as one could be in China when you think about it. If you only watch one local TV news station owned by larger conglomerates, its not likely you will hear a lot of news that makes the corporate interests of that station's owners look bad. The U.S. doesn't have nearly the same problem with govt censorship, but we do have corporate censorship galore. Sometimes I think Murdoch keeps a tight watch on Fox not bc of his political views, but bc of the ease with which a station can corner and cater to the particular demographic Fox attracts. And you won't likely see NBC reporting stories that interfere too directly with the interests of GE. As all the authors point out, the people power of the internet and networked publics depends solely on the user's desire to circumvent traditional sources of information and seek out the truth for themselves, although admittedly, in China one does so with a far greater personal risk to one's safey...