September 16, 2013

"Chinese state television on Sunday broadcast a startling video of a famous blogger in handcuffs, renouncing his Web posts..."

"... and saying how dangerous the Internet would be if left uncontrolled by the government."
“At first, I was careful and I didn’t write many posts,” [said Charles Xue — a Chinese American businessman and one of China’s most popular bloggers]. “But later, I posted more than 80 every day. . . . In the beginning, I verified every post. But later on, I no longer did that. All of a sudden you draw so much attention...How do you describe the feeling? Gorgeous.”...

In one [blog post], he wondered whether China’s water, whose quality is always in question, contained contraceptives.

“First of all, I didn’t double-check my facts,” Xue said. “Secondly, I didn’t raise constructive suggestions to solve the problem. Instead, I just simply spread these ideas emotionally.”...

[Under China's new laws, t]hose whose posts are deemed rumors and that have been viewed by more than 5,000 Internet users or reposted more than 500 times will be subject to prosecution and face a possible three-year prison sentence.

Xue praised the new laws Sunday. “It is very necessary to release these laws and regulations today,” he said in the video. “Without regulation, there’s no punishment for spreading the rumors.”...
Xue said that as his online following grew, so did his ego. He received invitations from universities and entrepreneurs. He felt like the “emperor of the Internet.” But, he said, in what may have been his biggest mistake, he felt that even leaders of China’s ruling Communist Party were not as powerful as he was. It’s not right for [popular bloggers] to behave higher than the law,” he said in a chastened tone. “If there is no moral standard or cost for slander, you can’t manage the Internet. And there are no limits. It becomes a big problem.”
This is important not only because of the suppression of free speech in China, but because of the light it sheds on our own ideas about controlling free speech. Xue is apparently under pressure, so anyone with any sense knows not to take these statements at face value but to read between the lines.

And yet taken literally, these statements sound like things many Americans say with sincerity, even though they are under no pressure at all and live in a culture with a tradition of free speech.

Notice the idea that writing on the internet is an addiction, a mental problem that ought to be disparaged. The blogger is an egotist, who pours out verbiage to further inflate his own grandiosity. This isn't normal speech, but bad speech, and there's so much of it that what once might have been thought of as a "marketplace of ideas" is flooded with so much tainted merchandise that the government acts wisely to step in with consumer protection measures.

Pay attention to the arguments Americans make that lend themselves to the retort: You sound like Charles Xue on Chinese state television.

16 comments:

Matthew Sablan said...

We all wish that, under the circumstances, we would insist that there are four lights. But, under the coercive power, not only might we be willing to say there are five; we may see five.

Bryan C said...

Former NSA Director Advocates Chinese-Style Internet

"During a speech at St. John’s Episcopal Church yesterday, former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden advocated a move towards a Chinese-style world wide web where users are forced to identify themselves before posting online content."

http://www.infowars.com/former-nsa-director-advocates-chinese-style-internet/


chuck said...

live in a culture with a tradition of free speech.

Depends if you hang out on the left or not. The left isn't big on free speech unless it serves a larger statist purpose, i.e., you are free to support the party line, that is the only *true* freedom. Thus, Sunstein.

David said...

It's ok. He wasn't a real journalist.

Edward Lunny said...

The left's dream for our future.

Brian O'Connell said...

The control of media by "experts", whether govt types or scienticians of one stripe or another- the latter often requiring govt approval- is a late industrial anomaly. Some folks saw that trend and assumed it would go on forever, mistakenly believing that it was caused by greater public demand for experts & expert opinion. But it was actually a supply-side phenomenon- the limited supply and relatively high cost of media being the drivers.

This economy is fast slipping away of course. The one central idea I keep coming back to when looking at the information economy from 30,000 feet- it will more resemble the pre-industrial economy than the industrial. We have the technological ability to achieve economies of scale for tiny markets that were once only available for massive markets. The internet's an obvious part of this- and Blogger too, but it's beginning to extend to physical goods as well. Quite apart from speech issues, the collapse of the US middle class is also being caused by this same technological/economic shift. The failure of the public school system is another, and there's much else.

The bitching by Chinese & some US authoritarians expresses a wish to return to that central control for political reasons. But as the cause is actually technological and economic, nothing much will come of their complaints in the long term.



Andy Freeman said...

One interesting part of the law is that it has a popularity standard, specifically "[posts] that have been viewed by more than 5,000 Internet users or reposted more than 500 times will be subject to prosecution and face a possible three-year prison sentence."

Is that "don't sweat the small stuff", an effort to avoid the appearance of selective prosecution, or what?

n.n said...

It's ironic that most people fear private monopolies, but many welcome, with hope and desire, a public monopoly. At least when it is accompanied with sufficient incentives for their personal or special interest.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Sorry, but that sounds like the statement of someone whose entire extended family is going to the laogai unless he makes it publicly on state TV.

Alex said...

We all wish that, under the circumstances, we would insist that there are four lights. But, under the coercive power, not only might we be willing to say there are five; we may see five.

THERE ARE 4 LIGHTS!!!

Nice ST:TNG reference.

Alex said...

I find it amazing how so many Americans do not cherish our Constitution. I clutch it tightly.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Alex, you do realize that that's cribbed from 1984, right?

Illuninati said...

People like to disparage the internet and there is some garbage, but there is a great deal of garbage in the recognized press and in the government. At least on the internet you get all points of view so that you can check them out against one another. By natural selection some sites like Drudge demonstrate that they are serious sites and move to the top. If they become sloppy and begin to post garbage they will fail. Because the internet has all viewpoints without government supervision there is always accurate information available even if the government wished it were not there.

Bloggers like Althouse are the same way. Everyone who wishes to blog has a shot but by natural selection those who work hard and have interesting things to say thrive and move to the top.

Alex said...

Yes I know it starts with 1984, but the lights are specifically from a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where Picard is being tortured by the Cardassian.

Matthew Sablan said...

I recognize it as a direct reference to 1984, but Picard doesn't break in the end whereas Winston does. So, that's a bit more uplifting.

Alex said...

The only reason Picard doesn't break down is he hasn't gone through life totally beat-down like Winston. Also he knew that there was a free society out there trying to rescue him. In Oceania, there was no hope.