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China and America: Two Ways of Free Speech

August 7, 2017
Plain English Version

An internet cafe in Beijing in May. Credit Roman Pilipey/European Pressphoto Agency

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to free speech. It guarantees not just the right to make free speech, but the right to hear free speech.

The internet is one path to free speech in America. In America, there are debates over the cost of internet services. In China, the government is shutting down internet debate, period. The way the Chinese do this is by closing down internet networks. Censors do not allow Chinese access to YouTube and Google among others.

The Chinese practice of closing down the internet is not new. In recent weeks it has become worse. Some say the current climate is the result of the lead-up to a key Chinese Communist Party meeting. The 19th Party Congress takes place this fall.

For a long time, smart Chinese internet users have gotten around the censors. Most of them use virtual private networks (VPNs). These are ways of getting around the bans on content. The authorities are targeting these tools. For example, they made Apple pull its VPN apps off the shelves in its stores.

Amazon has a cloud computing service. It warned its customers to stop hosting the VPN tools on their sites.

Some observers call this a ‘cat and mouse game.’ Last week the censors showed how much power they had.

The censors tried a new way of shutting down websites. They went after the tools that many Chinese use. They cut off the country’s internet users from the rest of the world. Internet users continue to try to outwit the country’s vast online censorship system. For example, some users can still get to foreign VPNs.

An expert said, “It does appear the crackdown is becoming more intense. But the internet is also more powerful than it has ever been.” Some say China is trying to create a great firewall.

Can a country that stifles free speech be a great nation?

Source: The New York Times August 3, 2017

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