Paradise, Panopticon, or Laboratory? A Tale of the Internet in China
- 238 Downloads
Reviewing how the Internet has penetrated and developed in China, Dazhou Wang and Kaixi Wang focus their analysis on how society and the Internet have developed side-by-side. These authors present the Internet as a laboratory, in which social, corporate and governmental actors operate in various ways and engage in power dynamics leading to social change. Wang and Wang highlight the presence of e-influences, dissident voices which have given rise to the diversity necessary for social change, allowing for public opinion to be formed among those surfing the Internet.
The right of association, which had been restricted in China, was achieved with the Internet, thanks in large part to Weibo, a microblogging service which encouraged political participation, and led the central government to outline strategies for dealing with the Internet, such as the dissemination of explanations of matters of public interest. This rendered politics more transparent by helping to explain those matters to the general public.
The government, however, fearing threats to social stability, set up the Great Firewall, a system of control and surveillance which blocks certain websites and filters keywords which web surfers key into search engines. Business entities, required to set up security systems to prevent the illegal transmission of information, carry out their own censorship so that web surfers, being aware of the censorship they are likely to suffer online, practice a kind of self-censorship.
In the light of the dynamics resulting from the spread of the web, going along with Latour, these authors see the Internet as a laboratory in which social actors, far from having defined and unchanging properties, experiment with its possibilities. With the emergence of personal media, civic participation has triggered mass mobilization in support of specific causes. This, combined with the increase in governmental transparency, contributes to greater freedom and to strengthening the rights to information and publication.
Wang and Wang suggest that there is not one “Internet”, but several “internets”. This goes against the idea of “universal association” and the conception of the Internet as an automatic conduit for democracy. The authors stress the dynamics of the interaction between the state, society and the Internet, in a process in which all those involved tested the suitability of different behaviours. Their main argument seems to be that social change is not a feature of networks and is not inherent in their architecture, but depends rather on political choices: they lacks, in effect, a political framework which might encourage further exploration of their nature as a laboratory.
KeywordsCollective Action State Council Internet Service Provider Microblogging Service Weibo User
- Chen, W. 2010. On the developing process of internet regulation from government in China. Today’s Mass-media 10: 112–114.Google Scholar
- Cheung, S. 2009. The economic system of China. Beijing: China Citic Press.Google Scholar
- Feenberg, A. 2014. Great refusal or long march: How to think about the internet. Journal of Engineering Studies 6(2): 146–155.Google Scholar
- Howe, J. 2008. Crowdsourcing: Why the power of the crowd is driving the future of business. New York: Crown Business.Google Scholar
- Latour, B. 1983. Give me a laboratory and I will raise the world. In Science observed, ed. K. Knorr, and M. Mulkay, 141–170. London: Sage.Google Scholar
- ———. 2004. Politics of nature: How to bring the sciences into democracy. Boston: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Lessig, L. 1999. Code and other laws of cyberspace. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
- Li Q., and Q. Liu (ed.). 2014. The internet and transitional China. Beijing: Social Sciences Academic Press.Google Scholar
- Li, Q., Q. Liu, and Y. Chen. 2013. The influence of internet on society and its construction. Social Science of Beijing 1: 4–7.Google Scholar
- Liu, Y. 2014. Minerva in action: The power dimension of contemporary cognitive activity. Chengdu: Southwest Jiaotong University Press.Google Scholar
- Liu, J., and W. Jin. 1998. Awakening after thousand years: Information and knowledge economy. Beijing: Social Sciences Literature Press.Google Scholar
- Minzner, C. 2011. Countries at the crossroads: A survey of democratic governance (2011: China). Washington, DC: Freedom House.Google Scholar
- Morozov, E. 2014. The internet, politics, and the politics of internet debate. https://www.bbvaopenmind.com/en/article/the-internet-politics-and-the-politics-of-the-internet-debate/?utm_source=views&utm_medium=article10&utm_content=morozov-article. Accessed 3 Dec 2014.
- Wang, L.Y., W.N. Qu, and X.H. Sun. 2013. An analysis of microblogging behavior on Sina Weibo: Personality, network size and demographics. In Cross-cultural design: Methods, practice, and case studies, CCD/HCII 2013, Part I, LNCS 8023, ed. P.L.P. Rau, 486–492. Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag.Google Scholar
- Winner, L. 2014. A future for philosophy of technology – Yes, but on which planet? Journal of Engineering Studies 6(2): 141–145.Google Scholar
- Xiong, X.B., G. Zhou, Y.Z. Huang, H.Y. Chen, and K. Xu. 2013. Dynamic evolution of collective emotions in social networks: A case study of Sina Weibo. Science China-Information Science 56: 1–18.Google Scholar
- Xu, K. 2007. Executive force of the government. Beijing: Xinhua Press.Google Scholar
- Yu, G.M. 2009. Media revolution: From Panopticon to onlooking prison. People’s Tribune 16: 23–25.Google Scholar
- Zheng, Y. 2008. Technological empowerment: The internet, state, and society in China. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
- Zhu, T., D. Phipps, A. Pridgen, J.R. Crandall, and D.S. Wallach. 2013. The velocity of censorship: High-fidelity detection of microblog post deletions. Paper for the 22nd USENIX Security Symposium in Washington, DC., August 2013. http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1303/1303.0597.pdf. Accessed 5 Dec 2014.
- Zuboff, S. 1988. In the age of the smart machine: The future of work and power. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar