MSN China Decides 'Democracy' Is A Red-Flag Word

The Financial Times is reporting that Microsoft's new Chinese internet portal has banned the words "democracy" and "freedom" from parts of its website in an apparent effort to avoid offending Beijing's political censors.

Posters on Slashdot are, predictably, blaming Microsoft here -- and it sounds reasonable enough, especially if (like most people on Slashdot, the internet in general, and perhaps most users of Microsoft products) you don't like the company to begin with. To be fair, though, they can't be blamed here: China's Great Celestial Nanny is a capricious beast. Words that are fine one week will be blocked the next, and sites that are acceptable in Shenyang may not be in Shanghai. Microsoft's removal of what it fears may be red-flag words is an attempt to play it safe (perhaps too safe -- 'democracy' and 'freedom' can be found in any number of governmental documents, to say nothing of the collected works of Mao Zedong) in an environment characterized by uncertainty. MSN is an important part of their internet presence, and if they don't want it blocked at the whim of some pimply-faced 'netcop in Zhongguancun, who can blame them?

So Microsoft isn't the bad guy here. Who is?

Well, for starters, there's Cisco and Nortel. They're the ones who sold routers and firewall tech to China, helped them set it up, and provided and continue to provide technical assistance in the construction of the most advanced real-time filtering system in the world.

Additional Link:
Who Lost China's Internet? - an old, but still interesting, article from the February 25, 2002 issue of the Weekly Standard.

UPDATE: In the interests of balance, it should be noted that China would probably not have a working Internet without the efforts of Cisco and Nortel. —JG

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