Microblogging in China and Egypt: Two Views

On China Media Project, Ying Chan writes about the recent revolution in Egypt and its implications for China and the prospects for political reform there. She discusses the ways China has changed since 1989, and discusses the role of the Internet both there and in Egypt:

Despite all attempts by the leadership to stifle the discussion and “guide” public opinion, however, popular voices demanding the truth and pushing for greater openness have only increased. On the virtual public square of the Internet, Chinese explore sensitive issues through the constant invention and re-invention of memes, so that keyword blocking becomes largely irrelevant; they use proxy servers to get around censorship and post what they wish.

The gap between the people and the government is deepening as well, a divide compounding the gaps between rich and poor, and between the city and countryside.

One important difference with the situation in China 22 years ago, in fact, is that democratic demands have progressed. They are no longer limited largely to students as they were before “June Fourth.” In the major social flash points we’ve seen in China in recent years, from poisonous milk powder to the collapse of school buildings in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, forces from all levels of Chinese society have come together.

The mass reach of the Internet means that people from all walks of life can take action and potentially bring about change. The web has already become a powerful force for mobilization, a boundless, all-weather channel for the sharing of information. Differing points of view clash in online forums, everyone benefits from the exchange of ideas, and civil society gradually develops.

Meanwhile, in People’s Daily, columnist Li Hongmei writes on the topic from a very different perspective, focusing on the dangers of microblogging in the wake of events in Egypt:

Admittedly, micro-blogging serves as an ideal platform for instant information dissemination and exchange. But it is also evident that the online information is, more often than not, intermingled with good and bad; true and false. If people fail to make a sound decision based on the cool-headed judgment and, lack the ability to sort out truth from all the confusion online, they could blindly follow a disastrous trend, ending up with hope dimmed and life goal smashed.

Just give another thought to the case of Egypt, the Western media again never hesitate to cash in on the idea that the Egyptian uprising was Internet Revolution, and it was Twitter and Face book that helped spur on international coverage of the events unfolding, which ultimately led to the downfall of Hosni Mubarak. However, the West pays no heed to the true feeling of the ordinary Egyptians who actually have no access to computers, and pushed to streets by the few elites with some idea of reform enlightened by the Western-style democracy, and motivated to follow suit by the slogans and symbols which sound all alien to their knowledge.

Most of the Egyptians, in actuality, have no idea about what it should be like after Mubarak, nor can they imagine any change to be ushered in their banal life by ousting him.

For more on the Internet in China, see a recent interview with Rebecca MacKinnon by the New Yorker’s Evan Osnos.