Digital Communities

All content produced on this blog is for the subject MDA20009 Digital Communities Semester 1, Swinburne University, 2014

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Is visual communication the key to defy censorship?

I’m assuming most of us had already heard about Internet censorship in China before the lecture this week, and I’m sure that when you first heard about it years ago, you were slightly shocked. Living in Australia, it is difficult to grasp the idea of having restricted access to the Internet. Imagine searching online for a past political or historical event, and being unable to find anything because the government doesn’t want people knowing or talking about it. Imagine if you posted a meme or rude comment online, about your own personal opinion on Tony Abbott, and being taken to jail because of it. It seems very extreme, but this happens on a daily basis in places like China, due to their tight Internet censorship laws.

The Internet censorship in China is known as the Great Firewall of China, or the Golden Shield Project. It’s a censorship and surveillance project run by the Chinese government that began in 2003. As discussed in the lecture this week, the censorship aims to neutralize critical online opinion, prevent people from being corrupted by ‘evil’ cultures, and stop attacks on state leaders. By doing so, the Chinese government is affecting the freedom of speech of Chinese citizens – moderating what information goes online and what people talk about. Defying these Internet rules could mean severe punishment for those involved.

Digital technologies, online sites, and social networking pages are generally seen to add to the freedom of speech that we engage in, in an online space where people from all over the world can openly discuss their thoughts on any topic they like. However, in certain places around the world, digital technologies and online sites can be taken control of. Governments can instead use these sites and platforms for oppression of thoughts and opinions, through carefully monitoring online activity, and completely banning certain pages and sites that the government might believe to defy their censorship laws, such as Google.

However, in China, some people are trying to find ways to get past the strict censorship rules on the content allowed. As mentioned in the readings and lecture this week, microblogging has become increasingly popular in China. People often use microblogging as a way to try to overcome censorship, through the use of a secret language that only others in the microblogging community will understand. Through using emoticons, symbols, or replacing words that would otherwise be flagged by moderators and deemed inappropriate for the internet, such as names of political figures, or comments on political affairs, the citizens engaging with microblogging could replace those words with a simple or common word that wouldn’t be picked up by the censorship laws. This ‘visual language’ acts as a way to avoid censorship and to empower people and their freedom of speech from the government. 

While this is seen as an effective and subtle way to try and avoid the censorship laws in China at the moment, what if the 600 million Internet users in China all caught on to using the same substitutes for certain words? This could become an issue, as with a small amount of the population using visual language substitutes can go unnoticed, if all Chinese ‘netizens’ engaged and followed the same visual language structure, the government may catch on to the avoidance and steps the public is taking to evade the censorship laws. If this happened, it could lead to even tighter Internet laws, and restrict the freedom of speech of Chinese citizens even more than it already does.

When talking about the Internet in China, it is important to talk about this visual language being used. As mentioned, people are using visual substitutes as a way to avoid censorship laws. Visual language, including images and videos, are harder to moderate than simple textual communication. It is much easier for moderators to put a search up for specific key words, than physically trawl through hundreds and thousands of photos to see if they contain unlawful content. A friend of mine is studying in China this semester, and while he informed us he wouldn’t have access to social media over there, he discovered Instagram is available in China. It’s interesting to think how this image based social media platform is allowed when images often hold more meaning than text alone, and could be interpreted in many different ways, yet the government has not banned it. I believe that there may be more worldwide image based content platforms that are available in China because it is harder to censor general images compared to text. Unless the images are ‘tagged’ with keywords, the government could miss something completely controversial, in their eyes, due to the difficulty of moderating the thousands of images that are posted on these platforms each day. Is this why many platforms that are text based are adding the affordances of images and videos, not only to improve visual communication between online communities and people, but as another form of self expression that allows the Chinese netizens to gain more freedom over their online experiences?

For us, the Internet censorship in China is extreme, but their strict rules in culture and society are commonplace for their citizens. With the Internet becoming a place where people around the world speak freely about their thoughts and opinions, the Great Firewall of China is preventing this by placing firm laws on Internet practices and the content that is allowed to be posted online. However, through the use of visual language, many people are finding subtle ways around the moderators and engaging in conversation that would otherwise be banned. Looking at the blocking of social networking sites, such as Facebook, it is interesting to see Instagram, an image-sharing platform, still available for use. Images are more difficult to moderate than text, so could visual communication be the way forward for Chinese citizens, to allow them to defy the censorship that governs their online use, and give them the freedom of speech they are denied? 

Is Chinese governmental censorship, honorable or ignoble? Principled or invasive?

egocollatisviribus:

In an effort to suppress “excessive entertainment,” the Chinese government has enacted a cultural purge to cleanse television broadcasts; promoting socialist values to curb Westernization. 

Tens of millions of people tune in every week to the Chinese dating show Take Me Out. It’s pure entertainment: girls in skimpy dresses hoping for a date; sweaty, geeky guys stammering questions; and two effete hosts sporting matching bouffant hairstyles.

But as of last week, the show was bumped from prime time — part of China’s latest clampdown against “excessive entertainment,” which is itself a manifestation of a larger ideological campaign.

Instead, Take Me Out’s millions of fans got Ordinary Hero, uplifting tales of ordinary people doing heroic things, like a firefighter saving a 10-year-old child stuck in an elevator. The swap was intended to promote “traditional virtues and socialist core values.”

According to new directives, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) has cut almost 70 percent of entertainment shows from prime time, with 126 entertainment shows pruned down to just 38. Broadcasters are allowed to air only two entertainment shows a week, with a maximum of 90 minutes of entertainment daily between 7:30 and 10 p.m.

Online there’s been an outcry, with netizens decrying the killjoy moves as “doomsday for entertainment.

Chinese intellectuals posit that the true aim of their government is to censor their growing influence.

"The battlefield of public opinion that they’re really fighting over is how to control the intellectuals. But mostly the intellectuals aren’t buying it." says Hu Xingdou, political analyst at Beijing Institute of Technology.

In stark contrast to governmental propaganda, Sam Durant of Seattle, WA, a Western multimedia artist whose works engage a variety of social, political, and cultural issues. His most recent project enlists seasoned Chinese artisans to recreate the prosaic “resin chair” as porcelain statement pieces. The idea, to reverse global opinion equating Chinese goods with cheap mass-production, as China houses the world’s most ancient ties to fine art. 

Baidu Continues to Copy Everything About Google, Including It's Competitors.

newcommbiz:

Baidu, is China’s Google. Seriously, just go look at the site. It doesn’t copy Google’s color scheme but everything else is basically the same. 

They even pulled out of their failed social networking service several months ago. We’ll see if they re-launch that effort. 

Now they’re developing their own operating system (which I’d be shocked if it wasn’t based on Linux and wouldn’t be surprised if it ripped off Android [UPDATE: yep they did]) and is launching it’s own phones and tablets. 

But what amazes me is that their main competitor is Apple. Every US tech company has struggled to grab a foothold in China, where the government places restrictions on the company and helps local clones gain market share. But even here, Apple has succeeded. I’d be interested to know what price Apples paid to pull this off (literally). 

As in 1957, 1966 and 1989, Chinese intellectuals are feeling more or less the same fear as one does before an approaching mountain storm. The scariest [fear] of all is not being silenced or sent to prison; it is the sense of powerlessness and uncertainty about what comes next… It’s as if you are walking into a minefield blindfolded.

Hao Qun, as quoted in The Guardian. China Tries to Rein in Microbloggers.

The News, via The Guardian:

China has launched a new drive to tame its boisterous microblogging culture by closing influential accounts belonging to writers and intellectuals who have used them to highlight social injustice.

The strict censorship of mainstream media in China has made social media an essential forum for public debate, but authorities have shown increasing determination to control it. Previous campaigns have warned the public against spreading rumours – a theme that has recurred in this crackdown – and ordered users to register with their real names.

Now attention has turned to the country’s opinion formers. A recent commentary in the state-run Global Times newspaper warned that “Big Vs” – meaning verified accounts with millions of followers – had become “relay stations for online rumours” and accused them of “harming the dignity of the law”.

Somewhat Related: The South China Morning Post reports that the central government has ordered universities to stop teaching seven subjects, among them civil rights, press freedom and the communist party’s past mistakes.

(via futurejournalismproject)


Facebook continues to dominate the worldwide picture with close to a billion monthly active users, but Chinese platforms take the remaining 4 of the top 5 slots. (via We Are Social)

Facebook continues to dominate the worldwide picture with close to a billion monthly active users, but Chinese platforms take the remaining 4 of the top 5 slots. (via We Are Social)

(Source: courtenaybird)

'The thing with virtual reality is, unlike the internet, you're not alone anymore.'
‘We are all together, out on the internet, alone. Or alone, out on the internet, together, right? Do virtual worlds really bring us together with others? Or do they just make being utterly alone a little more bearable?

—Digital Nation - Frontline (via magnifiquementtragique)

(Source: pbs.org, via magnifiquementtragique)

There is no meaningful difference between a real and a virtual world. It’s pointless to ask anyone who they really are.
All you can do is accept and believe in them, because whoever they are in your mind, is their true identity.

— Kirito (Sword Art Online Ep 23)

(Source: shadowflamelight)

Roleplaying games and story games are structured collaborative storytelling. And those three elements are also what make RPGs unique and why I love them so much.

Infinite Machine, aka Michael, on what makes tabletop roleplaying so exciting, in Interview with a Gamer. (via unpossiblelabs)