Chinese censorship agencies take action against all types of websites that they deem to violate social and ethical norms (Taneja & Wu, 2014). Among them, the huge filtering mechanism based on IP and DNS is now widely known as the “The Great Firewall of China”. This technology prohibits Chinese Internet users from accessing certain global websites and restricts the content of international websites that can be accessed within China (Yang & Liu, 2014). The Great Firewall of China has long been controversial in information and communications technology applications. People who support the policy believe that it helps unify ideology and stabilize society, while people who oppose the policy claim that censorship deprives them of their rights to free speech and access to online information (Yang & Liu, 2014).
This article’s perspective on the Great Firewall of China is the imbalance it creates in access to information. This article explains how the Great Firewall of China’s filtering of domestic and foreign websites and information creates unfair access to information. I will then argue further that this strong control stems from its politicization, which makes fair access to information more difficult. The Great Firewall and related controls pose significant challenges to equitable access to information within China.
Restricted information access
The Great Firewall of China’s domestic and foreign Internet filtering mechanism has long maintained a state of unfair information within China. Filters are programs that manipulate routers to prevent data from entering or leaving a network. Later, the Chinese government used this technology to block Internet users from accessing impermissible Internet IP addresses and citizens’ online information that the government deemed too sensitive or inappropriate (Lee & Liu, 2012).
Since the late 1990s, China has implemented laws such as CL97 and launched Project Golden Shield to regulate Internet access using methods such as IP blocking and DNS tampering. Blocked Servers Global information search platforms including Google are blocked in China, and access to certain news services and other specific pages on platforms such as Wikipedia is restricted (Martin, 2019). Furthermore, Chinese users are unable to use globally popular video-sharing-based social media such as YouTube and other social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. For example, although a Chinese TV singing competition show can easily rack up over 5 million views in a day, video clips from China are often unable to reach the world let alone receive international attention due to the inaccessibility of YouTube (Yang & Liu, 2014).
In addition, the government requires operators such as China Telecom to use technology provided by companies such as Cisco to block specific websites on a designated list, thereby effectively preventing certain information from reaching domestic end users. For example, news information websites such as the BBC, The Economist, and The New York Times (Lee & Liu, 2012). In this way, certain information disappears from the Internet. The Chinese government’s approach of intercepting people’s channels for obtaining information is simply to prevent people from obtaining this information at the source. In other words, the number of channels for Chinese users to obtain information is less than that of users outside China.
From the Chinese government’s perspective, containment filters often include too few websites because new websites are constantly emerging and posing new threats. In response to the limitations of traditional filters, governments have begun to adopt “content analysis” technology as a new method of Internet filtering. Content analysis techniques actively used by the Chinese government prevent users from accessing any website or URL path that contains certain keywords specified by the government (Lee & Liu, 2012). In China, content analysis techniques include blocking keywords such as “Tibetan independence”, “Taiwan independence”, “human rights” and “Falun Gong”, which means the scope of filtering is expanded beyond “Tibet,” “Tiananmen” and “Taiwan” (Lee & Liu, 2012).
It can be seen here that content analysis technology essentially limits the categories and multiple perspectives of information available to the public on the Internet. By censoring keywords related to sensitive topics, the government suppresses the scope and diversity of information available to people and only sees content and views permitted by the government, which demonstrates the unfair access to information for Internet users within China.
Authoritarian Control and Information Fairness
China’s Great Firewall’s strict filtering demonstrates the control of an authoritarian regime. Free access to information on the Internet challenges the stability of authoritarian regimes (Han, 2023). At the most basic level, keyword filters block search results for certain terms, such as “Tibetan independence” or “Jasmine Revolution”. By controlling access to information, the Chinese government has actually grafted its ideology onto the Internet, which allows it to influence public opinion, suppress dissent, and maintain and control social stability (Lee & Liu, 2012). The Chinese government considers such censorship practices desirable because they prevent the Western world from flooding China with information. When information on the Internet is controlled, access to information is no longer fair.
Google’s withdrawal from the Chinese market in 2010 due to censorship is a real-life example of its political nature. Google was aware of China’s politically charged history of internet censorship and control when it started operating “Google.cn” in 2006, but they still believed it would be more beneficial to provide the Chinese public with more information than none. It even agreed with the Chinese government to censor content on sensitive issues such as the Tiananmen incident, Taiwan independence, and the Falun Gong movement. In January 2010, Google exited operations in China due to attacks, surveillance, and theft (Hughes, 2010). Terms such as “Chinternet” have been bandied about since Google exited China in 2010 over censorship disputes, clearly conveying the idea that the Chinese internet is a different search engine than the World Wide Web because it is governed by an authoritarian regime control (Taneja & Wu, 2014). It can be seen from this that when the Internet is affected by political factors, access to information is no longer fair.
A senior official from the Information Technology Office of the State Council mentioned in an interview that in the vast ocean of information, there will always be pollutants. Their job is to ensure that waters remain clear and clean, which sometimes means certain sources of pollution need to be banned. The “Sixteen-Character Principle” is a succinct expression of this approach. It elucidates that governments seek to promote the use of the Internet to realize its economic and social benefits while exerting controls to protect people from what they consider to be harmful content on the “Internet” (Zhang, 2006). As emphasized in interviews and statements, this approach is not about shutting down the Internet or blocking all external information, but about managing the flow of information to ensure that it is consistent with national goals and social values. This shows that there is no fairness in the Internet information environment in China because all information and opinions need to comply with the social values set by the country.
In conclusion, China’s Great Firewall and its extensive censorship regime have created a severe imbalance in access to information within the country. Filtering mechanisms, including IP blocking, DNS tampering, and content analysis, not only limit access to websites that are not permitted by the government but also limit the fairness and diversity of information available to the public. This further illustrates the controlled flow of information consistent with government ideology, which suppresses dissent and maintains power. Google’s withdrawal from the Chinese market reflects the political nature of China’s Internet censorship. China’s Great Firewall poses significant challenges to fair access to information and strengthens the authoritarian regime’s control over the internet. When politics determine what is accessible, access to information is no longer equitable, limiting the ability of Chinese citizens to explore diverse viewpoints and participate in public discussions online.
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