Science & Technology Society

Foreign Social Media Should Not be Banned in China

Oops! You will get “404 Not Found” if you try to access Facebook or Twitter when you stay in mainland China. The Chinese government has prohibited people who live in mainland China from visiting foreign social media websites since 2009, including famous websites Facebook and Twitter. The government claimed that it failed to reach an agreement with these websites on content censorship. Unfortunately, the ban on these foreign websites still has not been lifted hitherto, which has a great impact on Chinese citizens, especially the young generations. However, in my opinion, foreign social media websites should not be banned in China because it has various negative effects on the society of the country.

To begin with, banning those websites is against the freedom of the Internet. Go back to the very beginning first. The original intention of the Internet is to share information with no restrictions. For instance, the first well-known specification of the Internet was done by J.C.R. Lickliter of MIT in August 1962. He briefly discussed his “Galactic Network”, imaging an internationally connected set of computers through which everyone could quickly access data and programs from any location on the earth, which was very much like the Internet of today (Leiner). As we can see from this case, “everyone” and “everywhere” have been the two main keywords of the Internet since it was first created. “Everyone” means that information should not be restricted by the difference between people such as the young or the old and citizens or rulers, while “everywhere” means that communication should not have limits between separated regions, including different countries and even different areas in one country. However, the Chinese government only banned western social media websites in mainland China, while Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan are not included. Even though the government always claims that these special regions are inseparable parts of China, this unfair way of controlling the Internet seems discriminatory. In addition, banning those websites conflicts with China’s law about citizens’ rights and freedom. The 40th article in the Constitution of People’s Republic of China clarifies that “freedom and privacy of correspondence of citizens of the People’s Republic of China are protected by law, and no organization or individual may, on any ground, infringe upon citizens’ freedom and privacy of correspondence” (Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council [PRC]). As the government is also a kind of organization, prohibiting any website has an obvious contradiction with the law of protection of people’s freedom of communication.

Moreover, banning those websites prohibits Chinese people from communicating with others overseas. Though the action successfully filters false and negative information, it has more negative effects than positive ones. First, modern people from all around the world should keep in touch with global information. “People’s participation is becoming the central issue of our time, and participation requires communication.” (“COMMUNICATION – a Key to Human Development”) Communication requires an effective way to share information, which is an inherent character and a basic social need for everyone. Luckily, those western social media websites meet people’s needs to communicate well. From the index page of Facebook, we can comprehend the main purpose and functions of itself: to connect with friends and the world around through seeing photos and updates, sharing what’s new and finding more information, which meets people’s basic needs and eagers to communicate. Due to the large amount of users of western social media, Chinese people also have the demand to communicate with others in foreign countries. For example, they need tools to keep in touch with their friends or family members who do not live in China. The total amount of international students in the United States has grown by 72 percent since the first International Education Week briefing was held in 2000. “There are five times as many Chinese students on U.S. campuses as were reported in 2000.” (“Open Doors 2014”) As more and more Chinese students study abroad, there is a rising voice of lifting the ban onimage Facebook and Twitter so that their parents can keep in touch with students’ daily lives in a more “foreign and native” way. Besides, more and more young people in China are interested in and willing to make friends with foreign people for various reasons, such as learning English or enriching their lives. For local Chinese citizens, this is a good opportunity to broaden their horizons; for the government, this is also a shortcut to improve the English education level.

Most importantly, banning those websites deforms the open-minded and international impression of China. Foreigners need to use foreign social media when they travel to China. China is now the third most popular destination in the world. The number of overseas tourists was 131.87 million in just 2007, with a total income of 777.1 billion yuan (“Factbox”). In addition, the popularity of western social media like Facebook or Twitter is really high. About 70 percent of Americans use social networking sites. Among all these users, about 70 percent check Facebook daily (Ferenstein). From the previous data, we can determine that most foreigners need to use western social media that they are used to visit every day even when they travel to China because it is a kind of habit. However, you cannot expect everyone to be an expert on IT. Most foreign visitors have no idea about preparing a VPN account before they pay a visit to China. In consequence, they may complain that China has a very terrible and unstable Internet system if they fail to access Facebook or Twitter. Furthermore, in fact, almost all of the countries around the world allow people to access those websites except North Korea and China. Though political factors should be taken into account, communism still is not an excuse for banning western social media. There are many socialist countries in the world, but most of them still enable people to access foreign social media websites. For instance, Cuba, a small country which seldom connects with the world, lifted the embargo on Facebook and Google after President Obama visited Cuba on March 20th, 2016 (Thiessen). There is no doubt that an international country like China banning websites is really unnecessary and ridiculous.

In brief, western social media should be accepted in China because it helps to improve people’s lives and the international impression of the country. If the situation continues, as China will never stop to develop, some negative social effects will happen sooner or later. For political reasons, we should not expect the government to reopen all the foreign social media websites at a time in the near future, but I still suggest the government to lift the bans step by step, such as just reopening the English version of Facebook first like what it does now on Wikipedia. As more and more executives from Facebook and Google start to take a fresh look on the Chinese market, we should never lose our hope to see the dream of Internet freedom comes true one day.

Disclaimer: This post is outdated and is for record only. It no longer represents any of my personal opinions at this moment.