Net Nanny Follies

Net Nanny vs. Great Firewall

This is a comment from a recent Danwei post about Internet censorship in China:

So, why does Danwei refuse to use the term "Great Firewall"? I find this term quite apposite, and I find "Net Nanny" boring and overly cute, playing down the seriousness of the imposition. Is there a post somewhere on this topic someone can point me to?

We replied:

The short answer is that we're simply accustomed to using the term "Net Nanny" and see no reason to change.

The longer answer is that China's Internet censorship apparatus is nothing like the monolithic wall that the term "Great Firewall" conjures up.* Instead, it's a complex system of IP blocks, keyword filters, and content review conducted by national, regional, and local ISPs as well as content hosts and service providers, and restrictions vary depending on location, visibility, and the phases of the moon.

"Net Nanny" conveys the idea that content management policies are set down by paternalistic government agencies, which actually operate in similar ways in off-line areas as well. "Great Firewall," on the other hand, plays into the idea that the Internet will be a catalyst for political change—revolution—and that the government needs the defense of a Great Wall to keep out the foreign invaders.

*Strictly speaking, the Great Wall is a fairly appropriate metaphor for China's online censorship regime: it wasn't a monolithic structure, nor was it all that effective of a defense. However, that's not the "Great Wall" that exists in public consciousness, so the term "Great Firewall" is still misleading.

See also: Forget the Great Firewall from Silicon Hutong.

There are currently 15 Comments for Net Nanny vs. Great Firewall.

Comments on Net Nanny vs. Great Firewall

To call the mainland's system of internet censorship the "Great Firewall" might suggest that it only blocked foreign websites.

I suspect that in fact more domestic sites are affected. Any figures on this?

I know that authorities in Shanghai alone have blocked 4,000 "pornographic" websites in the run up to the Lunar New Year.

Hear hear!

Net Nanny is much more appropriate, for all the reasons you give.

I would add that, apart from what has been mentioned, "great" often carries a positive connotation that, in the case of China's "Great Firewall", would not be appropriate.

I can not see any "great" achievement in (however successful) attempts to censor information.

Far be it from me to defend a journalistic cliche, but GFW seems a pretty good way to describe a particular part of China's broad-based effort to manage the internet. The operative word here is firewall, and it's clear that Beijing is trying to achieve something that operates on a national scale in ways similar to the firewall installed on any local network. The GFW is a system that seeks to protect those inside the network from harmful information available outside. It does so by examining the traffic that passes through defined gates. Where necessary it denies access to information that looks suspicious or comes from sources known to be hostile or dangerous. That's exactly what I'd expect a firewall to do. (And its not so dissimilar from what the Great Wall was supposed to do, either)

Of course, it hardly makes sense to use the GFW as a label for China's system of internal internet controls. The Great Anti-Virus Program might work as a metaphor, but I fear it won't catch on.

The "big bloatware"? ;-)

Continuing to flog this poor dead beast ...

It was me who posted the original question, and I find your arguments weak. "Nanny", to me, doesn't connote paternalistic (or maternalistic) government organizations, it connotes a lovely plump old woman who reads bedtime stories. "Great Firewall", on the other hand, is a dual metaphor, and (in my opinion) the dominant one is "firewall", which is very apt, as Mure argues. The allusion to "Great Wall" gives it Chinese characteristics. Also, clearly, the "great" here doesn't mean "good", but "vast".

Note that it there's a nice Chinese translation, too, which I think is in pretty widespread use, 防火长城 (Fánghuǒ Chángchéng), which is a portmanteau of {防火墙 fánghuǒqiáng firewall} and {长城 Chángchéng the Great Wall}.

The big guns are out, and they favor 'the Great Firewall'.

Mure and Chris, your arguments are persuasive. But I fear that both of you may be in danger of writing a book containing the words dragon, red, pearl or rise in the title.

Another reason to oppose the "Net Nanny" terminology is that Net Nanny is an actual software program that, yes, censors the Internet -- but you have to choose to install it on your computer. Parents use it to "nanny" their children when the young ones go online.

While Net Nanny has a spiritual connection to China's Internet censorship, it's an imprecise (or incorrect) term when applied in China, whereas Great Firewall at least conjures up the right imagery, as Chris notes.

However, I'm sympathetic to those who claim the Great Firewall is a poor choice because it doesn't highlight the internal censorship at work. (To be totally accurate, Great Firewall is improper even to describe the external blocking process at work, as most firewalls are designed to prevent access from outside in rather than from inside out.) Anyways, perhaps something like the Chinese Censornet would be a more appropriate term. Or the Chinese Truthinet for Stephen Colbert fans.

Be careful, 防火长城 may be a translation into Chinese of the original English.

How about the Kung Fu Net? 功夫网 :)

One should point out that "Net Nanny" the desktop parental control software helps protect Freedom of Speech in the United States.

Without private industry attempting to create a technological solution to help prevent kids from viewing inappropriate content, the US government would step in and attempt to censor content

Parents are responsible for what comes in over their Internet connection.

Not ISPs or Government Agengies.
Unlike China, Iran and soon Australia.

So calling China's "Great Firewall" a "Net Nanny" is not so accurate

If you really hate the term GFW, why not use Golden Shield? It's what the filtering system calls itself, at least according to Wikipedia.


Calling this Internet censoring system "Nanny" is a real insult to anyone who ever be taken care of when surfing web within this country. How could an arbitrary organization deciding what is allowed for public to know and what is not purely on its own interests be called a Nanny? Since when Nanny's job turned to be taking every possible chance to wash children's brain and keep her crime from exposure?

I think "Net Nazi" sounds better, and conjures up images of Seinfeld's fantastic 'soup nazi' character.

Net Nazi says, "No internet for you!"

By the way, the internet is being a bitch some days. Right now I can't get into facebook, hotmail, and several other websites. It's been going on all day (Monday, Jan. 21st)

I agree with Inst that we could call it Golden Shield/金盾, since that's the official name of the technology, but I can't imagine anyone using that term in English without sneer quotes -- e.g. "Looks like the 'Golden Shield' is no longer protecting us from Wikipedia this week."

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