I’ve always found China’s approach to the internet fascinating. Or at least based on my understanding of it to control content and messaging, mainly through censoring and propaganda. This means China restricts access to certain sites, domains, and social media options. They also employ, likely thousands of people, to monitor, delete, and scrub messages that don’t align with the government’s message.
Recently, protests started to erupt due to the strict covid limits. However, protestors, aware of the censoring that happens to posts, have started using creative workarounds to get their messages seen and heard. For example, some protestors hold up sheets of blank paper. Others may use code names and words, or certain emojis that will not flag unwanted attention, to escape detection. Or use something innocuous to send a message so that it will pass through the censors.
Now it’s a race between the censors and the content creators. It would be easy for censors to become overwhelmed and fall behind. Keeping up with the ever changing and various coded messaging is constant. Messaging moves fast in the digital world. And once something is out, it can be hard to contain.
In some ways, China’s desire to control the internet and social media content mirrors some of the challenges faced by social media companies. Meta, Twitter, etc. all have been trying to track, monitor, and deal with unwanted content. Now, their definition of unwanted, or problematic content, is different from China’s. But in the end, they all need to have some oversight and control of how people use the platforms. For the social media companies, it’s challenging because they also deal with operating in different jurisdictions, social customs, cultures, and languages. China is at least one country with the same laws, but they have over 1 billion people.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens. Will China be able to contain the protests in the digital universe? Will the government succumb to the pressure and relax the covid restrictions? Or will the limits become even more strict and enforced more strongly? Will news about any of the protests be seen outside of China?
Of course the nerdy archivist in me is thinking about who will preserve the digital trail from all this social unrest. Will there even be anything available to preserve? Or will the censors get to it first?