Freedom of the Net: Implications of China’s Information Control Regarding Tibet


The Net can be a tool of democracy or at least for sharing the information some see as vital to a democracy. One country, China, knows this point and has moved to shut down information. Many may know that China has moved against Tibetan protestors. China has been quite shrewd about preventing information from coming out of Tibet. Observers are not allowed. Although observing repression seems odd, it may inhibit some of China’s acts. In addition there is a ban on foreign press in Tibet so any news feeds are from rather brave folks. China has also invoked its laws against distributing videos online that are “pornographic, violent or a threat to national security under rules that tighten Internet controls.” Arstechnica reports that China has shut down 25 video sharing sites and penalized 32 others. Furthermore, one news source reports that Web sites for groups supporting Tibetans against China’s presence (political, NGO, and support sites) have been under cyberattack. The attacks use friendly looking messages with attachments that appear to be power points or pdfs with information from inside Tibet. The attachments carry trojans. Whether China is behind these attacks is unclear but the Washington Posts notes that the “attacks shared the same Internet resources and tactics in common with those used in a spate of digital assaults against number of major U.S. defense contractors,” according to Maarten Van Horenbeeck, an Internet security analyst.

On top of the moves to stop the flow of information, China is now sharing its view of the events in Tibet. by showing “Tibetan protesters attacking Chinese” and posting material to YouTube that claims “CNN, Germany’s Der Spiegel and other media [cropped] pictures to show Chinese military while screening out Tibetan rioters or putting pictures of Indian and Nepalese police wrestling Tibetan protesters with captions about China’s crackdown.”

All of these moves make me wonder about two questions Did sci-fi writer, Orson Scott Card, think of these types of events when he was writing the Ender’s Game series? And would a general right of freedom of the Internet work?

If I remember correctly, the series has version of Internet news dissemination where Ender’s sister uses pseudonyms to spread views. Those acts spur changes in the society. They can be manipulative as people may write under a pseudonym and fake positions. Or they may use anonymity to offer unpopular ideas that stand up regardless of the source. Today using technology to spread information with a directed purpose is not so wild. China’s acts highlight the way a government can and will try to control information. Note that the U.S. control of information in Vietnam and Iraq shows that any government can act as China is. China is perhaps more aggressive right now than others so it exemplifies the problem.

So would a general right of freedom of the net work? Would it matter? After all, one will still encounter claims that certain information is not valuable or speech worth protecting. And if net culture persists as it is (though I think Jonathan Zittrain has shown why that situation may not continue), many will find ways around whatever regulations are in place. Still, as demands for more ISP control emerge from the intellectual property and national security industries (yes like intellectual property, national security is an industry as well as a real concern) the ability to choke off the sharing of views looms over the Net. Maybe the ideal of a guaranteed right would at least allow people to point to the words and say the law has been broken. And even if that does not happen immediately because of rushing to fix alleged or real short-term problems or system capture, the words would endure and allow later people to say that was wrong; now, let’s move closer to the ideal.

image: Wikicommons


license: Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License

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8 Responses

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  3. Carl Liu says:

    Yes, it is true that China exercises information control. Probably for a couple of reasons: (1) the government does not want its people know the truth that undermines its authority or legitimacy. (2) mistrust of the Western media. (3) doubt its people’s ability to react intelligently, moderately, and peacefully.

    Articles like this one is profoundly disappointing. (1) It assumes the Western media is objective. (2) It assumes China’s version of the story is always false. (3) It always assumes the information control is for an ill purpose. (I admit the means is questionable, but that does not mean the end is evil. I am not asserting the end justify the means. But as a seriously commenter, you can not assume a Satan of a country, evil on all levels. The condescending attitude will never invite helpful discourse.)

    In this case, the Western media is a disgrace, mixing its position on the Tibet sovereignty issue with its responsibility to describe the facts. The Tibetans violently attacked people and business based on ethnicity.

    Most of the Western news outlets were quick to ignore these facts, and continue to paint an emotional and biased picture of China’s police response. China’s mistrust of the Western media is not unfounded after all. You may argue China invited such reporting because it blocked all the international journalists from entering Tibet. But why is it not Western media’s responsibility to show that it is trustworthy first? The responsibility is at least shared.

    The passion is high the Tibetans and the Han. Because there is no democratic tradition in China, conflicts are not always solved peacefully. I do understand the concerns of the Chinese government, if it does not control hate speech by the Han, or it allows videos showing the most heinous violence by the Tibetans. Ethnic violence is likely to escalate. We do not want Tibetans to be murdered, do we?

    Oh, I forgot, if China did not control the follow of certain information and violence gets escalated, the Western media would quickly point out that China always control the information, and fact that it did not, proves its intent to escalate the violence. China, because you are evil, whatever you do, you will always be condemned!

    China has many problems, maybe more than most countries, and it can be brutal at times. If you see it as all evil, it only encourage it to be worse, because it will seem to them that it dose not help to good at all.

  4. Deven says:


    Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I do not think I was saying China is evil. You have projected that view into the post. Remember, I noted that the U.S. has behaved in similar ways in at least Vietnam and Iraq. That was to highlight the point that governments in general have a large ability to control information. They will do so. Nonetheless, the question is whether letting information flow freely will bring acts to light so better understanding is possible.

    Furthermore, if there were violent attacks in Tibet that the Tibetans started them, the issue may be more about whether Chinese control of the country is justified at all. Yet even if one leaves that question oout of the inquiry, at an abstract level the way a government perceives a group i.e., as rebel or freedom fighter will likely influence how the facts are portrayed. But maybe, just maybe, if there was more information in general provided by observers, the press, insiders with Internet access, and so on, one could see who is doing what and what the resolution should be. So again as it is China right now is an example of the more general problem.

  5. Carl Liu says:

    Thanks for your prompt and courteous response.

    Your clarification, “I do not think I was saying China is evil,” is welcomed. However, sometimes, the assumptions made or the perceptions encouraged, consciously or subconsciously, can be as “unfriendly” as explicit words. For example, to encourage the suspicion that the Chinese government is behind some cyber attacks on overseas Tibetan groups, you quoted Washington post, “[these] attacks shared the same Internet resources and tactics in common with those used in a spate of digital assaults against number of major U.S. defense contractors.” To add more weight to the statement, you named Maarten Van Horenbeeck, an Internet security analyst, as the source of the statement. However, you conveniently forgot to mention that Van Horenbeeck also “provides security and technical advice to several Tibetan groups.” This information is available in the same article you got the original quote from.

    I am a strong supporter of better information follow in China; I definitely find it appropriate to discuss/debate on Tibet’s sovereignty issue, considering Tibet’s many- century-long complicated relation with Chinese central government ruled by Mongolians, Hans, Manchus, and considering the underlying causes of the bloody riots. However, I am sure you will agree with me that such inquiry is not a true inquiry if the assumption is that Tibet should be an independent country.

    In the end, I am not opposing any of the positions that you are advocating. Instead, I am a bigger supporter of them. However, my point is, if you want to encourage a person to behave better, you have to give that person an impression that you are fair: be clear about the problems and at the same time give credits to the person when he deserves it. Otherwise, everything you say appears to him to serve a selfish agenda. Obviously, the agenda here in the article is not selfish, and it should not appear as one either.

  6. Deven says:


    It seems you will only stick to the idea that the post is unfair. O.K. That is your view. As for the allegation of hiding something, yes the analyst works with Tibet but the Post notes that he also worked for the U.S. government in finding the source of the first attacks that were based in China. Note that I acknowledged that the cyberattacks may not be from the Chinese governemtn but seem to based in China. You conflated that with the idea that I somehow said China is behind the attacks.

    In addition little things like China unblokcing the BBC (though never admitting to blocking in the firt place) and more attacks by unknown people but from within China on sites with views unfavorable to China’s policies (, make it hard to give China any credibility. Again more openness in general may change that view. The unblocking of the BBC (though Chinese language articles are still blocked) is a start.

    Last here is my question for you, what do you recommend? The alleged fairness move has some resonance but there is little to support your allegations. This post and comments have noted that China’s government is not proven to be the source of some acts (a point you ignored) and that other governments control information (again ignored). If you are suggesting some sort of uncritical comment (which I do not think you are) that will not work.

    So what do you propose regarding the actual question which is how to address information flow control by governments?



  7. Carl Liu says:

    We can disagree on many things. However, we all agree that the issue of “information flow control by governments” is an important one.


  8. byron says:

    No provision in the U.S. Constitution explicitly guards against government “taking” information away from people. It doesn’t even impose due process. The framers were sages. They did as LaoTze said:

    Not praising the worthy prevents contention,

    Not esteeming the valuable prevents theft,

    Not displaying the beautiful prevents desire.

    In this manner the sage governs people:

    Emptying their minds,

    Filling their bellies,

    Weakening their ambitions,

    And strengthening their bones.

    If people lack knowledge and desire

    Then they can not act;

    If no action is taken

    Harmony remains.

    No matter how hard Demos try not to perceive, men are not born equal. And many, if not most, do not appreciate the freedom of choice at a sea of conflicting information. I would even propose a moderate governmental control of information flow a “welfare” in the case that I don’t want my kid learn doggie at the age of 5.