Alice Xin Liu: Green Dam About-face Inspires Hope

Danwei’s Alice Xin Liu opines in the Guardian about the government backing down over the filtering software and what it means for Internet activism in China:

The decision is momentous and the government’s claim it was all a big misunderstanding is a step towards admitting that actually it just didn’t make Chinese citizens very happy. Li Yizhong, the minister for industry and information technology, made the concession. According to the Guardian report, “the notion that the Green Dam programme would be required on every new computer was ‘a misunderstanding’ spawned by poorly written regulation”. At least he recognises that sometimes the government is inconsiderate, especially when disseminating (and implementing) its guidelines. In the case of the Green Dam Youth Escort, the original regulations were certainly uncompromising.

The episode provides a minor victory for Chinese netizens, a guarantee that the government won’t lash out with forced implementation. It enables Chinese computer users to breathe a sigh of relief, and comes at a time when respite is most needed.

Unfortunately there have recently been many cases of netizen abuse but hopes have been raised because in several of these cases – like Green Dam – the government appears to have relented in the face of public opinion.

For its part, the China Daily issued their own op-ed about Green Dam, called, “Gift of Hindsight”:

Something meant to protect our young citizens from harmful information is worthy of applause. Yet the “Green Dam” was stonewalled because of the fear that it would compromise people’s privacy and right to know.

Now, Mr Li clarifies that we have all been mistaken about what was on their mind – they had no intention to monitor our online activities, nor did they want to impose the filtering device on all personal computers. Which is different from what we heard two months back. At the June 30 press conference we heard the ministry, for some reason, was only postponing forced installation of the software. And, sources in the ministry disclosed then that compulsory installation was only “a matter of time.”

And, now, Mr Li assures us that the so-called forced installation was the result of a misleading impression, which itself was the outcome of awkward representation.

It is a pity that a well-thought-out public interest initiative turned into a public relations disaster for the ministry. And it is all about misrepresentation. Never again should something like this be repeated.

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