The Great Firewall of China | James Griffiths

Summary of: The Great Firewall of China: How to Build and Control an Alternative Version of the Internet
By: James Griffiths

Introduction

In ‘The Great Firewall of China: How to Build and Control an Alternative Version of the Internet’, author James Griffiths discusses how China has morphed the internet into a tool for spying on its citizens and curtailing dissent. The book takes a deep dive into the history and intricacies of China’s internet censorship, with the author presenting striking examples of how the regime controls and exploits its digital landscape. With insights into how the Great Firewall was initially created to monitor online speech, Griffiths details troubling examples of how the Chinese government enforces compliance, both on web users and global tech giants operating within its borders.

China’s Cyber Censorship

James Griffiths in his book reveals the dark side of China’s internet censorship. Instead of the anticipated transformation of bringing free speech and democracy, the internet has become a tool used by the authoritarian regime to track citizens and stifle dissent. Griffiths’ account sheds light on the techniques employed by China to control cyberspace and presents eye-opening examples of the government’s influence on the internet.

Beijing’s Control Over the Internet

The Chinese government initially viewed the internet as a niche tool for academics. However, as internet access grew rapidly, officials began to see it as a threat to their authority. In 1996, Premier Li Peng signed an order banning citizens from using the internet to challenge the government. Today, the government monitors online activity to ensure censorship and control over its citizens.

Breaking Through China’s Great Firewall

In China, the Great Firewall blocks banned content, and those who use virtual private networks to access it can face police action. Internet censorship in China is pervasive yet unobtrusive. However, in 2015, Li Gang created an anti-surveillance protocol that breached the firewall. The police threatened him with arrest unless he destroyed his creation. In the 1990s, 10% of Chinese internet users found ways to bypass the Great Firewall, but by 2010, it fell to just 3%.

China’s Chokehold on the Internet

Chinese authorities can exert control on internet access and free speech within minutes, as demonstrated by the arrest of a news reporter who posted a pro-American piece on an US-based website under a pseudonym. Moreover, in response to a riot at a factory involving Uyghur people, the country’s government blocked 20 million people’s access to the internet.

Tech Giants’ Compliance

In the early 2000s, American tech giants entered the Chinese market but buckled under government pressure. Yahoo surrendered user records, leading to a journalist’s imprisonment, while Microsoft silenced a regime critic. Google’s Chinese search engine was re-engineered to criticize Falun Gong. As Silicon Valley companies retreated, Chinese tech giants thrived. Baidu took Google’s place, and Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube were all banned. This evidence shows that these companies care more about profit than protecting users from censorship.

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