“If one were to post a blog entry titled ‘Jasmine Revolution’ several months back, he would probably be asked to have ‘a little tea-talk’ with the Chinese police”, a citizen mordantly remarked. Indeed, when the call for a revolution was at its peak, the Chinese government tried all approaches ranging from sporadic searches to large scale new blackouts in an attempt to clamp down on those who voiced out. Nonetheless, details about the revolution still remained widespread across the Internet.
It is thus pertinent to question the effectiveness of censorship in the age of new media. While censorship had been useful in the past, now it seems effete in front of the gigantic amount of information produced and the staggering speed at which it is delivered. Hence censorship is getting increasingly irrelevant in the age of new media. In the past, information is usually disseminated in the form of books or newspaper, both of which requires huge amount of capital to produce and are either controlled by state-funded media corporations or run by a few private juggernauts.
Censorship is highly adapted to this kind of situation as the amount of information delivered is generally small, and it has enough manpower and resources to scrutinize every chapter in the book, or every news headline, and check for any undesirable contents. In the age of new media, however, technologies such as the Internet have pushed the amount of information produced to unprecedented heights: any individual with a computer or even a mobile phone has the capability to publish information to the public.
Twitter, for example, has reported that it receives hundreds of millions of tweets a day, to the extent that their servers are frequently struck off-line by the surge in information. The gigantic amount of information is one of the major factors causing censorship to be virtually defunct. There is simply no time or manpower for censorship authorities to filter every tweet, blog post or Facebook status, and some of them containing information deemed unfavourable by censorship will eventually leak through.
This is also probably why some of the details regarding “Jasmine revolution” survived on the Internet. In the age of new media where information can be produced by everyone in large amounts, censorship cannot function anymore. Besides the amount of information, the high speed of dissemination of it also causes censorship to be no longer applicable. Any form of censorship is characterised by a distinct time lag between the time certain information is published and the time censorship can respond.
This is caused by the need for censorship authorities to thoroughly check through the piece of information before it can make any decisions. Such mechanism works perfectly fine in the era when the main media are still based on paper. The speed at which they are circulated is very slow; censorship authorities have ample time to ensure that every publication is “clean” before they are released to the public.
Even if some went unchecked, censorship can still remove the offending material long before it reaches a large group of population and can cause any real harm. However, the age of new media has brought various high-speed platforms for information sharing. Be it the Internet or mobile networks. Information, once enters the reign of the Internet, can be spread across the globe before censorship authorities can view it, mark it as undesirable, go through several layers of bureaucracy and finally remove it.
By then, a significant portion of the public may have already obtained the information, thus defeating the whole purpose of censorship. Therefore, censorship is getting largely irrelevant in the age of new media. Should the aforementioned argument be presented to the censorship division of certain countries, they may respond, “we have already adapted to the age of Internet and the new media, and censorship can definitely still keep up”.
Indeed, many countries are developing new techniques in order to maintain the effectiveness and relevance of censorship. China, for example, has implemented a huge computer mainframe, termed “the Great Firewall”, dedicating almost solely to scanning every piece of information published on the Internet and blocking Chinese citizen’s access to many foreign websites, including Facebook, due to their potential threat as and aid to individuals to publish Information freely. There has been initial success of this gauntlet of information.
However, the Internet is flexible and anonymous in nature, and such methods will invariably fail. The Internet, as said before, is extremely sophisticated and flexible. These characteristics are lethal to the practices of censorship. In the real world, censorship authorities can subjugate almost all pathways of information and choose to ban some of them, but in the virtual world censorship is losing control. The bans on websites can, in fact, be bypassed using “tunnelling software” easily available to average netizens.
The use of such software has been so prevalent that statics from Facebook indicates a steadily growing user population of more than 4 million from China despite the blocking. Besides tools aimed to bypass the bans on information, the Internet has also offered users with options of anonymising themselves. As one of the key objectives of censorship is also to trace down the source of the offending materials, the anonymity of users of the Internet makes censorship particularly hard to function. The offender cannot be found and punished.
Singapore has one of the largest “Tor” networks in the world, which is designed to allow users to access the Internet via layers of other users’ computers, much like going through an onion. Despite claims made by certain censorship authorities stating that they are fully capable of identifying the author of an online article, the besting tracing techniques to date are far from even reaching the author’s computer in the labyrinth of network connections. Gone are the days when censorship can easily find the author of undesirable materials through publishers.
In the age of the new media, censorship now faces an entire new series of challenges, and is thus getting less relevant. The gigantic amount, large extent and fast speed of information associated with the new media have made censorship increasingly irrelevant. Perhaps in the near future, the new media will equip individuals with means to publish information regarding “Jasmine revolution” without ever being identified or blocked, and by then, censorship will completely lose its value.