Posted by Alice Xin Liu on Wednesday, June 10, 2009 at 5:00 PM
Today's The Beijing News ran an op-ed piece by well-known Chinese Internet commentator Hu Yong, a journalism professor at PKU, author of books about the digital age in China, blogger and oldhand journalist, about the topic of the "green dam", which has been debated loudly on the Internet as well as offline media.
Hu Yong writes with questions about who will keep a "list" of the blacklisted material and whether we can trust a software company to keep a list of data for websites to be censored, as well as decide which websites should be censored.
The Green Dam, be careful probingby Hu Yong / TBN Op-Ed
No-one would really oppose a government who wants to help ban pornography, violence. But a task like this shouldn’t be given to a software company, should it?
The Green Dam Escort software has become the hottest topic in recent days on the Internet. Through contending players, and spending 41.7 million yuan of public spending, this filtering software is purchased and can be used for both picture and text. For free it will be installed for the whole of society (based on Xinhua report dated June 9th). In principle, this should a great thing, especially in relation to young people's healthy use of the Internet: we should really be agreeing hands down.
On the Internet, it's no doubt that adults now have freedoms which they have never had before, but we shouldn’t forget that they also have a responsibility to protect their young, especially when the total figure of Internet users in China is still growing rapidly, as are young users. A perfect answer has never been found to the question of how public policy can help, how enterprises can be responsible, how citizens can maintain their right to express and balance this with their duty as adults. All of this should all be achieved with open and public debate and the interaction between different parties, deeper thinking and slower paces, and with the right attitude and methods.
Even the officials of the MIIC have recognized that it is "probing work": the purchasing of the green Internet filtering software and its popularization. If so, such a hurried and forceful launch: have the related parties realized the complicated nature of the problems that are facing them?
First of all, from the angle of the results from the filtering. According to the test results of many users, the software’s technological effectiveness is not as obvious as what the related departments presume. There are many results of false judgment or leaked judgment (for example, if the picture had a black background and a yellow foreground then the “Green Dam” will close it for being a pornographic picture). With so much money being spent on the project, can’t it be tested effectively? Now, there are painful experiences for the users of the “Green Dam” software on the Internet. The software development company says this: “If you discover mistakenly filtered websites, send the URL to us, and we will continuously renew the list, and improve the filtering”, so are the many computer users being experimented on?
At the same time, there is an even more serious problem: the software company will collect the data of the websites that are considered unhealthy, but, who will guard this special data bank – the software company or the government? Fundamentally, judging whether the website is pornographic or violent, and whether it should be filtered: the principles for this will be decided by whom? If this is decided, will the details be announced to the public? We can’t give a software company the right to decide this, can we? If the whole process is conducted as if in a black box, without transparency, how can Internet service providers check their own websites, so that it can prevent making the black list?
Aside from this, people will also be suspicious if there's a monopoly going on? Will there be a negative impact on the information industry? Even if the related departments asked for contenders [to decide who will be the company chosen], was the deciding process strict and legal? If in the future every computer had installed this software, if national security, which is so emphasized by the state, is endangered, will the company be able to be responsible for this?
No person would be totally opposed to the government wanting to manage pornographic or violent content, but this forceful nature deserves to be discussed. The best method would be for content to be labeled, and then people can make their own decisions [about whether to censor it]. At present QQ, Sina, Baidu and the other most widely used websites are already effectively self-managing, especially QQ, with 80% of underage users. I don’t deny that there is a criminal corner on the Internet, but we can’t, because of this, develop a dangerous theory: relying on a piece of software to do everything for society.
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