From Wikimania
Jump to: navigation, search

A five minute talk on the politics behind the PRC block of wikipedia

  • The main purpose of the Chinese firewall is NOT
    • To control the flow of information
    • To change public opinion
  • The main purpose of the Chinese firewall is
    • To manage/control social networks
    • To establish presence - See Foucault comments on the panopticon
  • The paradigm, not Star Wars but annoying corporate IT
  • ***The PRC government does not consider Wikimedia to be a major threat to the regime***
  • The PRC takes rule of law and due process very seriously. This works for the Party because they write the laws. But clearer laws aid mass control, and also the leaders have a very strong self-interest in having clear procedures in case they lose a power struggle.
  • Specifically Articles 103-107 and Article 111 of the Criminal Code make it a crime to:
    • Undermine national unity
    • Subvert state authority or the socialist system,
    • Reveal state secrets
  • There is some case law on what the boundaries of these laws are. Most Wikipedia activities are not covered under these laws. It is not a crime to read wikipedia and to bypass the blocks. It is also not a crime to contribute and edit to wikipedia. It *may be* a crime depending on what you post.
  • Anti-Niemoeller. The laws are set up so that most people are not in fear of the government. This is good in that it means that most people aren't living on constant fear. However, it does have the consequence that the government can hit targeted groups very hard, and most people don't care. It also means that people with social grievances act in a way to stay off the targetted list. Most people have internalized political censorship.
  • Blocks and deleted posts are routine and not considered a big deal. Censorship has been routinized. Drafting a post on a chat room is a lot like drafting a corporate memo.
  • Censorship system in the PRC. The censors are not government officials, but are employees of the internet content providers. The people who censor forums for Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, etc are on their payroll. This has some subtle effects. It makes ICP's "partners in crime." The government is also trying to make censorship routine, not scary, and popularly accepted.
  • What won't work (maybe)
    • Assuming stupidity either on the part of government or on the part of the public
    • Shame
    • Holy war
      • Problem - NGO's like holy wars
  • Bad options
    • Accept censorship restrictions (which is the only way that the block will get removed quickly). This is impossible since it would destroy WikiMedia.
    • Create sanitized "non-wikipedia." I don't like this because Wikipedia is useful at creating a "unified Chinese identity" and a non-wikipedia would fragment the community. The other problem is that "censorship mentality" creates closedness.
    • Make wikipedia work
    • Make it easy (but not too easy) to circumvent block
      • The big danger, people assume security that doesn't exist.
      • You need to annoy people.
  • The case that I hope can be made..... (in 3 to 5 years)
    • Wikipedia is too diverse to be a threat to the PRC government
    • It is in the PRC governments interest to expose people to diverse opinions
    • The Chinese wikipedia is creating a unified Chinese national identity
    • Blocking wikipedia is hurting PRC technologically

Other notes....

The easiest technical thing that wikipedia can do to circumvent the Chinese firewall is to set DNS to return addresses that don't correspond to known blocks and then to allow SSL connections. The former will make it hard to block via IP. The latter will make it hard to block via content.


The key thing in this is to do this quietly in a way that doesn't cause the PRC government to lose face. If wikimedia quietly randomizes IP, there is a chance that the PRC government will quietly "fold." However, if this gets loud and the PRC government looks bad, there will be a lot of pressure for them to figure out a way of escalating.

The big danger.....

The big danger in telling people how to circumvent the block is *NOT* that they will get into trouble reading wikipedia. The big danger is that they will believe that their communications are far more secure than they really are, and act on this assumption, and start crossing "red lines" (i.e. posting material calling for the overthrow of the Communist Party or advocating secession).

The methods of reading wikipedia are low-tech methods that allow you to circumvent a firewall. They do *not* provide a secure channel for communications, and people need to be aware of that (i.e. tor is *very* insecure to a man in the middle attack).

I've blogged some on this issue at