From the perspective of Zhongnanhai, the people responsible for planning and building China’s Internet filtration systems are geniuses. Not only did they foresee the threats from social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, they also built the systems to effectively neutralize them.
As I wrote last year in the essay China’s Internet: The Invisible Birdcage:
Writing in the Party journal Seeking Truth in December 2009, Meng Jianzhu, the Minister of Public Security, wrote: “The internet has become a primary method for the anti-China forces to infiltrate us and amplify destructive energy. This provides new challenges in maintaining state security and social stability.” Censorship of foreign content has shifted from news sites to Web 2.0 services with superior communication and organizing functions, such as Twitter and Facebook, which the government accuses of becoming a rallying point for dissidents and separatists. A report on new media published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in July bluntly states: “Foreign social networking sites have become a tool for political subversion used by Western nations.”
The recent turmoil in the Middle East proved these concerns to be prescient, and the officials and academics who predicted and prepared for the risks of Facebook et al, along with technologists like Fang Binxing, “father” of China’s Great Firewall (see Digicha: Great Firewall Father Fang Binxing ??? Speaks Out), will likely receive promotions and awards.
We should not expect any reduction in the vigilance against the Internet-borne foreign threats. As I wrote in early February in Will Unrest In Egypt Strengthen The Chinese Government?:
To the extent that the Chinese security services needed a reminder to stay vigilant, they have one. And they also have a very clear roadmap of how activists can use the Internet and social media like Facebook and Twitter to help catalyze political opposition. They will likely both increase their scrutiny of the Internet, especially “web 2.0? services, and have even more budgetary resources allocated to their online and offline efforts. The Egypt protests will probably dash Facebook’s hopes for a China entry, no matter how much they compromise.
China is unlikely to achieve true digital autarky so long as they allow public and private foreign funds to own such large stakes in Chinese Internet firms. But those of us living in China likely need to get used to a world of much more limited global Internet access.