For China Media Project, Qian Gang argues that the Internet in China cannot simply be judged as “free” or “not free,” and that the real situation is much ore complex:
So, can we say that China’s Internet is controlled, or not? What sort of control are we talking about?
Internet controls, in fact, are something every Internet user in China experiences and understands on a very intimate level. And the statement on Internet freedoms issued by the Information Office can itself be taken as an example of how control works.
What we call the “long tail phenomenon” (长尾现象) can be seen as one of the defining characteristics of China’s Internet. The “long tail” refers to the chain of Web user comments and discussion that trails after online news stories. These can be exceptionally long tails. In fact, some news stories on major Internet portals can draw hundreds of thousands of comments, the plainest illustration of how enthusiastic Chinese feel about the right and the opportunity to speak their minds.
Obviously, the recent statement from the Information Office on the topic of Internet freedom, an online story that was billed at the top of most major news portals in China for two straight days earlier this week, was guaranteed to draw the attention of Chinese Internet users. And this is also a topic we can expect to generate strong feelings and opinions.
But when I searched through ten of China’s most high-traffic news portals on January 28, I discovered that four sites had no comments posted whatsoever.