Beijing’s New Internet Buzzphrase

Hutong Forward
Planespotting at Reagan National
1655 hrs 

In a ten minute speech last month in London at the 50th Meeting of ICANN, Lu Wei, the Minister of China’s Cyberspace Affairs Administration, introduced a set of seven principles under which, according to him, the Internet should be governed. While not much attention was paid Mr. Lu or his speech outside of the confines of the attendees, we can assume that it was an official statement of government policy, and therefore worth understanding, analyzing, and discussing.

His principles, as I heard them, are:

  1. The Internet should benefit all mankind and all of the world’s peoples, rather than cause harm;

  2. The Internet should bring peace and security to all countries, instead of becoming a channel for one country to attack another;

  3. The Internet should be more concerned with the interests of developing countries, because they are more in need of the opportunities it brings;

  4. The internet should place emphasis on the protection of citizens’ legitimate rights instead of becoming a hotbed for lawbreaking and criminal activities, let alone becoming a channel for carrying out violent terrorist attacks;

  5. The internet should be civilized and credible, instead of being full of rumors and fraud;

  6. The Internet should spread positive energy, and inherit and carry forward the outstanding culture of human beings;

  7. The Internet should be conducive to the healthy growth of young people, because that concerns the future of mankind.

There is a lot to grist in these, but what jumped out at me was this catchphrase “credible Internet.”

There is a ring to it that suggests that we are going to be hearing this much more in the coming months, but the aim seems clear. While in the past the boundaries of online expression have been defined by prurient content on the one hand and seditious content on the other, there is now a third piece to that troika: rumors.

This is worrisome: “non-credible” content implies a much wider scope for restriction than the modus vivendi we have enjoyed in the past, and opens to official censure a vast swath of online content. You can avoid posting prurient content rather easily by avoiding adult themes and illustrations. You can dodge seditious content by steering clear of domestic political issues. But “non-credible” content is in the eye of the beholder, and can easily extend to commercial content and company web sites as well as posts on Weibo or WeChat.

Watch this space, as I suspect we are going to learn more about where the authorities are going to be drawing the line. In the meantime, any company or individual producing a content-laden Chinese site or posts on Weibo or WeChat should err on the side of caution. Chinese law is unkind to those whom the authorities accuse of spreading rumors, and demonstrable veracity may not be enough to keep you out of the wrong kind of spotlight.

Michael

“The Internet should spread positive energy, and inherit and carry forward the outstanding culture of human beings”

Who are you and what have you done with China? :S

Alec

Interesting article and I enjoy your blog, but it would be useful to know what exactly this ‘new Internet buzzphrase’ is in Chinese! :)

David Lloyd-Jones

David,

Fun. All this is happening exactly as the Internet is making the biggest transition since ARPA changed itself into DARPA in 1971 and ’72. It is fairly rapidly stopping being American.

The Obama Department of Commerce has announced a friendly discontinuation of any financial aid, a response, I would guess, to the recent rumblings out of Valparaiso to the effect that the Internet should be “international,” i.e. not American.

This seems to me a fine example of a “Be careful what you wish for” moment. Sure the Americans are a pain in the ass, particularly if you take the Republicans too seriously, but the worst American noises are not nearly as frightening as the actual French and German realities when it comes to random good-hearted blundering. The two-tier threat coming out of the FCC may be more than the usual degree of US stupidity, and a good reason for moving the whole thing offshore, but I can’t see it actually happening. But. Maybe. Et Cetera.

The fact that a two tier Net looks so bad to us all is a good reminder of what wonders we’ve received in the paths laid down by Johnny Foster, Joe Lickleider, Vint Cerf, and the whole Bolt, Beranek and Newman, today’s BBN, gang, waa-ay back when.

One of the odd facts in the whole picture is that a very very high percentage of the Chinese involved in the Net got their training in the US, and from the best of the DARPA/BBN folks. (The man who built the Internet Great Wall of China, recently deceased, was a teacher of one of my Chinese teachers, and apparently a good sort, no mindless apparatchik.)

The Party no doubt has its agenda, and the various polices are said to have two million people on their rolls as Net watchers. The picture looks gloomy, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_censorship_in_the_People's_Republic_of_China, but there are a ton of workarounds, and to shut down international contact they would have to shut down all VPNs, which means getting into the hair of everybody who banks, manufactures, or ships anything anywhere. Not Good For Trade.

Fun in all directions.

-dlj.