The Power of Information versus Blissful Ignorance

Screen shot 2013-04-09 at 2.02.56 PMThere have long been Chinese rules and regulations. New rules were enacted in late 2012, requiring that Internet users provide their real names to their service providers. The government also increased the responsibility of Internet service  providers to disclose and delete any prohibited information posted on the internet. This was all done to ensure that politically sensitive information is not posted on the internet. Thus it is more difficult to access many international websites.

The new laws allow locals to post content on the internet under alias names. So long as they disclose their real names to their Internet Service Providers. Thus the government will be able to know which postings belong to whom. These regulations came following a few scandals that resulted in many government officials being forced to resign. An overwhelming majority of members of the National People’s Congress voted for these regulations with only one member voting against these measures. However, the government defends its actions and emphasizes that these restrictions were not an attempt to protect the government from any future scandals. They assert that these measures are simply to protect the locals against any sort of personal information theft.

All cellphones must also be registered with the government, especially when making international phone calls. The restrictions put in place have made it much harder to purchase a new cell phone anonymously. The cell phone internet providers were among the main targets of these restrictions. There was a sharp and sudden increase in restrictions of international websites. Although, the Chinese government had been researching adequate and efficient methods of blocking these websites for quite a long time. Thus they now monitor the internet use for any sort of broadcasting of politically sensitive information.

This restriction of information, is, to the dissatisfaction of Chinese computer users, expected to last. What is particularly intriguing to me is how such restrictions on information affect people’s lives. There is power in information. The increasing of such restrictions limits the usefulness of the internet as a reliable source of information. It would be interesting to look into what other channels of communication are used, and believed to be more reliable. Freedom of speech is an argument that can be made in this situation. The public should have the ability to disclose their feelings and argue their views in a secure environment. That is true, however, political stability is a valid concern for the government to have given the large Chinese population. Allowing freedom of information may cause revolt against the existing political institution. Which in turn would call for radical reform. It would allow opposers of the government to organize themselves and react. However, institutions, once put in place, are usually quite persistent. Thus any political reform would not occur without harming the general population, which may even include bloodshed. That said, I am not condoning these restrictions, I am simply appreciating the complexity of the situation as a whole.  This restriction of information also lends China an ignorant and isolated quality. I believe the argument that ignorance is bliss is irrelevant and shortsighted.

Thus I would like to observe, through my fieldwork, the opinions of the Chinese locals themselves, particularly  on whether or not they believe these restrictions to be in the best interests of society or simply restraining their unheard voices.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/29/world/asia/china-toughens-restrictions-on-internet-use.html?pagewanted=2&_r=0