The method that the Chinese government employs to manage breaking news communicated instantly on the Internet is about as effective as a waist-high fence. Word this week that the Chinese civil-rights activist Liu Xiaobo was awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize had zero coverage in Beijing's traditional media. Indeed, in a move that evidenced the government's displeasure, they blacked out all foreign news outlets covering the story.
The Internet had the story, however. Foreign news sites, such as nytimes.com and bbc.com, were left alone; so that users with sufficient English could access the facts and learn of the controversy. It was another issue entirely for the Chinese public. Major State-run, web-based, outlets did not report the news. But posts on popular the Chinese blog site Sina.com did . . . before -- in the blink of an eye -- they were taken down and a high-tech game of cat-and-mouse between the bloggers and the censors ensued.
The government has come to understand the impossibility to censor the Web, and so it has opted to make it as difficult as possible for the large number of their citizens -- few of whom read English -- to access news and facts that do not want known.
Their strategy is not proving as effective as they had hoped. According to the New York Times, although Mr. Liu's name is on the government blacklist, his name was searched for by nearly six thousand people -- most presumably non-English speaking -- within an hour of the announcement.
Originally skeptical of the Internet, Mr. Liu has since become one of its largest proponents as a vehicle for free speech in mainland China. The undeniable, unstoppable truth is the Web has become an essential tool in modern Chinese urban life, with close to 300 million users who increasingly get their news online rather than through traditional media. Deciding to fight fire-with-fire, the Chinese government has been known to utilize variety of web-based tools in to shape online public opinion, including flooding popular communities with pro-Chinese opinions and creating hundreds of thousands of fake "sockpuppet" accounts in order to skew perceived opinion on any given subject on both Chinese and Foreign websites.
It is a losing battle. The waist-high fence might rein in the majority of Chinese citizens; but, today, more Chinese than ever before were interested in seeing what was on the other side.