Freedom to access information has long been a debatable aspect in terms of details. The definition and the limitations of this freedom have been restricted and customized for different governments and nations. This is such that different governments and nations have differences in the type and nature of information that they allow people to access, and those that they do not allow them to access. The media in China is particularly sensitive area that has been the subject of many debates (Zhou 2006, p. 2). This paper will explore the issue of whether the internet in China will likely increase individual freedom and state control, and to what extent these two aspects influence individuals and the state. Traditional means of disseminating information have been subject to more stringent and effective means of control by the state. However, these means, like newspapers, magazines and television broadcasts, are undergoing slow replacement by more effective and sometimes cheaper ways of disseminating and gaining information. New technologies facilitate these new ways of disseminating information. The increasing pace of advancement in technology has resulted in people in China gaining access to the internet. The reality of this era is that conventional modes of media dissemination have their modern counterparts that give the user significant advantages (Xiao 2011, pp. 47-61). Among these modern counterparts are web-based publications that have enabled different people to voice their opinions that different people around the world can access. Traditional media like newspapers, television broadcast and magazines have counterparts that are on the internet and are accessible by anyone with the internet. However, much as access to the internet gives an individual freedom, the same gives the state more power, over the all content. In this way, the state has more abilities to control content that gets to people and, therefore, the state monitors the content of more people. Other than that, there are certain restrictions that are on the internet so that people do not access certain types of information.
Governments are responding differently to the pressures and the challenges posed by new technologies and the internet. One of the responses includes deploying sophisticated technologies that give them significant power to monitor and control the use of the internet. One of the prominent examples is that of China attempting to impose control over the use of the internet through providing the internet through the state. This is so that the Internet Service provider is the State and thus, the state is in control of the information flow on the internet (Meng 2010, pp. 501-508.). However, the Chinese government is finding it harder to enforce this control, because the internet is dynamic and, so is technology that supports the internet.
Freedom to access all internet information is unsettling both for individual citizens and different state authorities. The general expectation was that new technology would lead to an increase in democratization of different nations. However, this impact is yet to take effect in countries like China, where the availability of technology is relatively higher than in some places around the world (Xiao 2011, pp. 47-61). Thus, the hypothesis that accessibility to the internet by more people in China will increase both individual freedom and state control has two sides to it and, different aspects influence both these sides. In order to understand how the internet might influence the freedom of individuals and state control in China, it is important to discuss certain issues about the internet in China. These issues include learning about how the internet in China is used and the impact that it has on political issues. Additionally, highlighting the influence of culture on the internet use in China is essential. In addition, the sway and nature of democratization needs to exploration to find out whether it is an inevitable result of globalized media and, whether it is most important
By the virtue that China is a rising power, it is inevitable that nations will experience their presence on the internet. The irony that exists in China is that despite China having the most ICT, it remains mostly authoritarian. This is especially, because of the expectation that wide use of the internet will lead to democratization (Zhou 2006, p. 2). Of all the technologies available, the internet is expected to be most effective in democratizing. For instance, Twitter was majorly influential in ending a 30-year dictatorship in Egypt. In this case, the social media became a forum for people to express their views and supported their activist actions. The state was able to command the content that was presented to citizens, but not the dissemination of the information amongst the citizens
The Internet In China will Increase State Control
The state aims to control the internet so that the Chinese socialist system is unaffected by the internet. This means that the state has increased control over the internet. Ever since nations began embarking on processes of globalization and modernization, China’s policy towards new technology has been that new technology aims at building nations political and economical powers within the framework of socialism. This means that technology should not alter the political disposition of the Chinese, but rather reinforces it (Yang et al 2010, pp. 163-188). On the other hand, the United States policy of technology towards China is to ensure a lot of technology goes to China so that the ‘myth’ that technology will result in China altering their socialist system can be realized. This shows that the state aims to maintain its communist system while offering some kind of freedom to its citizens to access information that they control.
The state also have more control over the information that people can access. One of the most documented trends that the Chinese government established is being keen on maintaining control over the harmful political and social consequences of the internet. In some instances, the police raid cyber cafes and arrest people involved in internet contention. Some of the powers that give the state the mandate to control internet content are within in the legal system. For instance, China has a policy that allows the government to block sensitive websites. Sensitive content, in this context, refers to sites that support the independence of Tibet. The deduction made from this restriction is that people in China use the internet to find information about the independence of Tibet and Taiwan. However, the state control is only issued on certain subjects with information technology (IT) supported for the greater public advancements. Among the remaining communist nations, China is the only one that believes IT will bring development to the nation. This implies they do not view IT as a threat to the socialist system in China. The perceived threat is that of the corruption of the morals of the people (Meng 2011, pp. 33-51). Other communist countries like Cuba and North Korea keep the internet and other technological advancements at arm’s length.
In addition, the state controls sensitive political information from reaching its citizens. In doing so, the government promotes the interests of China over other ideologies. Currently, the government of China has managed to allow enough access to the internet to ensure individual freedom, while maintain enough control over it. The control has aided China in preventing the internet from thinning the political system that has been in place for centuries. Individual freedom brought about by the internet is simultaneously strengthening state control and the position of China in the world. In this sense, internet use by individuals is helping the state in China to achieve cultural goals of ICT (Hughes & Wacker 2003, p. 87). China has the world’s largest population and the use of the internet by many Chinese citizens result in the Chinese language and culture becoming a major focus. Websites in China aim to inform people about the culture of the Chinese and their history.
By controlling internet content so that it contains more information about Chinese culture, the state has increased control. The experience of technological backwardness in China, for the better part of the 20th century, is slowly reversing. The results of change in leadership and in communist ideologies include the leaders in the 21st century believing that the internet is instrumental in strengthening socialist systems. Technological barriers during the 20th century led to the usurping of China’s placement in the world as a powerful economy. Subsequently, China is eager to reestablish the international standing enjoyed previously as a power worthy of admiration. While this happens, some government officials in China are safeguarding the culture against the erosion of the Chinese culture. This is because of the belief that the internet mostly advocates for western lifestyles that lead to domination of other cultures.
The state control has increased control because it inputs laws for other people who engage in the internet commercially. Private sectors dealing with the internet service provision have heavy incentive to comply with the national laws of information control. These laws stipulate that non-compliance will result in no business. This motivates businesses to make use of self-censorship (Tai 2006, p. 60). For instance, Chinese businesses have an agreement called ‘the pledge’, which they enter into for self-censorship. Companies in this agreement have a code, which they are obligated to observe. Therefore, not all information that is on the internet is available to everyone in China. People will use the internet to get information that is available and allowed. In this case, state control is increased. Though these sites are blocked, it is not automatic that a majority of people would access them if given the permission.
The internet in China has grown exponentially since its full establishment in 1993. In 2005, the number of internet users in China was one hundred and eleven thousand. This number rose to 350 million users in 2009. The launching of the Golden Shield Project resulted in the internet in China becoming a type of information surveillance system (Zhao 2009, p. 97). This project has increased control of the state over internet content. Though individuals are experiencing a greater freedom in their opinions, it remains to be seen whether the government in China can allow people to access more information on the internet then make their own decisions after that. The state’s increased control is of a high level.
The Internet In China will Increase Individual Freedom
Yes, the internet has increased individual freedom to some level. Economic reform is one of the major areas that the internet in China affects. However, protests accompany these reforms. The protests have roots in China’s history. However, there are restrictions in place as to the content allowed and, they have been dabbed as ‘the Great Wall of China’. The arguments that people have to pose about economic reforms have fewer restrictions due to the internet such that, people have online forums in which to express their views (Yang 2009, p.67). Individual freedom will increase since people have an improved forum to express their views and, strengthen their culture
Individual freedom will increase because people can access more information. Trends in information seeking and browsing show that people often look for information that will affirm their existing views. This means that people will look for information about things that will support what they already know and those connected to what they know. Individual freedom thus increases. The cognitive dissonance theory places an argument that supports this idea by suggesting that people crave information that is consistent with their beliefs while they avoid those that are not. A report from Zhu confirms this as it states that internet users in China currently visit domestic websites 80% of the time. Hartford calls this sticking to a safe environment (Yang et al 2010, pp. 163-188). The language barrier that exists on sites that are in English reinforces sticking to this environment. The quality of the information available and its diversity affects how the Chinese use the internet. Because of this, Chinese people often gather virtually in bulletin boards (BBS) to post their information and get information from others. The internet in China has, therefore, become one of the most effective and extensive platforms of advocating and carrying out nationalism.
Online discussions of the political nature will increase meaning that individual freedom will increase. Consequently, contention has been taking on newer forms with online activism being one of the most prolific. Examples include the Xiamen PX factory protest over the environment and the Sun Zhiang protest over the abuse of power (Yang 2009, p.67). Online and offline protest are linked so that online forums are used to organize and steer offline expressions of protests. In this aspect, the internet has increased the level of individual freedom, because people are free to express their opinions with some anonymity. The anonymity provided by the internet has led to more people (Yang 2008, 126) refers to the offline events that are triggered and controlled by the internet as internet-assisted contention. Internet contention, therefore, is one that takes place online (Yang 2008, p. 126).
Individual freedom will also increase and people will be able to have political discussions offline. The central place of contention is the internet though this sometimes goes offline because as an extension of the internet discussions. Internet contention is one of the effects of the internet that shows the internet increasing individual freedom. It is important to note that, although there is access to the internet in China, it took a while before the internet caught on effectively. Internet contention in China has its roots in student movements that took place in China in 1989. The organization of these movements took place through internet contention, where students agreed on where to meet and what to do. The main communication that took place over the internet was between students in China and Chinese Diaspora interested in their country (Meng 2011, pp. 33-51). Initially, telecommunications took precedence over other forms of technology, although the internet was also present. At this time, Chinese students overseas mainly used the internet to raise money that would help the students in China to voice their opinions. Chinese students overseas made more use of the internet than those who were inside China. The spread of the internet use inside China took more time.
Few Chinese individuals had connections to the outside through the internet. In 1994, China achieved full functioning of the internet and, even then, only few people had access to the internet (Xiao 2011, pp. 47-61). This all changed in 1996, when the efforts of private entrepreneurs and the advancement of information and technological economy led to increasing investment in information that is contained in the internet. The availability of internet contention to more people in China led to a forum where Chinese people could also voice their opinions about issues that are affecting different people in the country. For instance, the death of a certain businessperson in her hotel was highly publicized over the internet and, this led to petitions from people that urged the police to carry out further investigations. In this sense, the internet contributed to individual freedom. This information was in an online report. This shows that the internet in China is a dissemination tool. In addition, it is also a tool for mobilizing support for causes like the petition to the police to investigate the murder further and, the student protests (Meng 2011, pp. 33-51). The internet makes use of languages and symbols. It is spontaneous and, it is often about a certain issue at a certain time. For instance, protests against NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy had organizational roots in internet contention.
The adopted Chinese policy towards the internet is similar to that adopted for traditional media. In essence, it is an extension of the policy originally up for media usage in the country. Thus, the larger issue of whether the internet is bringing democracy to China is dependent on the definition of democracy. Individual freedom has increased in China, because of the use of the internet and, so has state control (Yang et al 2010, pp. 163-188). The irony that remains constant is that the socialist system in China has remained strong and perhaps even strengthened by the internet. The Chinese government has more control over the aspects of information that it may not wish the public to have. From the time that China fully established the internet, it is clear that it has developed following a pattern that is preferable to China’s governmental goals. The global internet world has also supported this development, such that supervision, censorship and oversight of the internet by the government are always present. These aspects of internet in China are all empowered by advanced technology.
Following the widespread use of the internet in China, the nation had rapid transformation that led to the loosening of some of the older ideologies like those proposed during the Mao regime (Zhao 2009, p. 50). The expectation in many people’s minds is that the internet will facilitate the free flow of information and, subsequently, lead to globalization. China still enforces information control policies with some loosening of stringent ideologies to allow for growth of the country as a socialist nation. It would be rash to assume that the presence of the internet in a country will result in the citizens having access to all the information on the internet. Following this argument, a deduction can be made that the internet use by most people doesn’t translate to governments relinquish or diminish in their control of content. Thus, as the enhancement of individual freedom accompanies a similar increase in state control over internet content (Meng 2010, p. 501-508.). Information control highlights the nature of the internet use in China. Another aspect that highlights this nature as well is the reality that, though information is available, not everyone may be interested. The hypodermic needle theory of the media is not a sure reality in this era and, this helps shed light on the internet use in China.
In conclusion, the internet in China will increase individual freedom and state control, because of the different ways in which the state has chosen to embrace the internet. Owing to the presence and preference of local websites, it is highly unlikely that the internet will lead to a historical clash (Hughes & Wacker 2003, p. 87). The world perceiving China as having a ‘great wall’ is not an accurate representation of facts since China has directed more technology towards the promotion of internet use. However, this metaphor is true to some extent, because of the high control that the state has imposed over internet content. Despite this, online contention is soaring to new heights everyday with more people using the internet for activism. Though the socialist system in China remains constant, there are moves towards forging newer social identities to affect the country indirectly. Thus, the western world will have to accept the reality that not all internet users react in a similar way and, that democratization may not be the most vital component of development. This implies that state control is important if China is to maintain its higher position in the world.