Rebecca MacKinnon on The Internet in China

In his New Yorker column, Evan Osnos interviews Global Voices Online co-founder Rebecca MacKinnon about the Internet in China and the different attitudes and policies of various concerned parties.

Will the “portfolio of technologies, tools, and training” that Clinton promised have a meaningful effect for the Internet freedom of the average user in China? Or is this symbolic?

… At the end of the day … given that the average Internet user in China isn’t very political and often isn’t even aware of how much censorship takes place, the people who would potentially benefit from these technologies will be certain specific types: the edgier Chinese investigative journalists, rights-defending lawyers, grievance petitioners, and other people who are inclined to get active around certain causes.

Knowing Chinese Web entrepreneurs as you do, do they generally see themselves as doing the best they can within a restricted system, or does the official view have support among Chinese private-sector technologists?

I think most see themselves as doing the best they can—although I’ve also spoken to executives at Chinese Internet and mobile companies who have told me that they agree with their government that the Chinese people aren’t ready for democracy, and if censorship was lifted all of a sudden the country would go haywire. I get the impression that at least some of them genuinely believe this. What’s more, if you’re the C.E.O. of a huge Chinese Internet company you’re benefitting from your relationship with an existing set of government officials, which you’ve spent large amounts of time and resources cultivating ….

I get the impression that most Chinese entrepreneurs are so focussed on doing what they need to do to succeed in the Chinese market—which is a big enough challenge even for the established players—that nobody is thinking much about the longer run or the bigger global picture.


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