As China began to go online, observers made brash predictions that the Internet would pry the country open. Cyberspace, the thinking went, would prove too vast and wild for Beijing to keep under its thumb.
Now these early assumptions are being sharply revised. Under an authoritarian government determined to control information, China has grown a new version of the Internet. As former US President Bill Clinton noted recently, China’s Internet is very unlike the cauldron of dissenting voices that is the hallmark of the Internet familiar to Americans. Instead, it’s heavily filtered, monitored, censored, and most of all, focused on making money.
The success of Beijing’s strategy – to harness the network’s business potential while minimizing it as a conduit for free speech – has some concerned that it has established a medium and new censoring tools that other countries can adopt.