- By Isaac Stone FishIsaac Stone Fish is FP's Asia editor. A Mandarin speaker, he lived in China for seven years before moving to Washington, D.C. His articles have also appeared in the New York Times, the Economist, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, and he has appeared as a commentator on MSNBC, the BBC, NPR, Al Jazeera, and PRI, among others.
To convince lawmakers to abandon the SOPA and PIPA, bills that threatened to put America "on a par with the most oppressive nations in the world" according to Google co-founder Sergey Brin, many prominent websites took to the, um, cyberstreets today in protest. Wikipedia featured a shadowy W and the line "Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge," giving Americans a tiny taste of what Chinese face daily in their internet usage. News site Reddit went dark. Wired blacked out their headlines, protesting "legislation that threatens to usher in a chilling internet censorship regime here in the U.S. comparable in some ways to China’s ‘Great Firewall.’" Even Google hid its iconic name from shame at the thought that America could follow in Beijing’s virtual footsteps.
China blocks Facebook, Twitter, Falun Gong news sites, pro-Tibet sites, and pro-Chinese Democracy sites, among countless others. PIPA would "chill innovation in legitimate services that help people create, communicate, and make money online." China scrubs mentions of the June 4th massacre in Tiananmen Square. SOPA would have made it more difficult people to post videos on Youtube. China has blocked Youtube for years.
What makes the Great Firewall of China truly fearsome is not the inability to create or view content but the consequences of doing so. Today China’s propaganda and information arm announced it would tighten registration requirements for China’s microblog users, to rein in content unacceptable to the Communist Party. In November of 2010 a Chinese woman was sentenced to a year of reform through labor for retweeting a joke. In October of 2011 authorities detained a student for spreading a "rumor" online about the murder of eight village officials. The government employs thousands of people to scrub content from the web and to delete posts deemed too sensitive from microblogs. Some of the Chinese dissidents arrested and tortured in 2011 spoke of being interrogated about the contents of their blogs and twitter feeds. There are countless other examples of things that would never happen in the United States of America.
American websites have the right to protest and protect their content because they exist in a country that respect the rule of law. America couldn’t create a "Great Firewall" comparable to China’s, because it wouldn’t be backed by a Chinese-style system where the Communist Party hovers above the law. Comparing the Chinese and American internet is akin to saying that a kitten that scratches furniture and a lion that eats people are both members of the cat family. True, yes, but it completely misses the point.