Monday, June 13, 2005

Microsoft blocking words on China's Web? | CNET

Just saw this note come through from the weekend: If you're in China, use MSN search, and enter in any of the words: "deomstration", "democracy", "democratic", etc... you get an error message which says "This item contains forbidden speech. Please delete the forbidden speech from this item." Therefore it blocks your ablility to search for information, or knowledge, using these terms.

According to CNET, Microsoft has issued a statement, which states that "MSN abides by the laws and regulations of each country in which it operates." Fair enough - they are not saying they like, or agree with the law, but rather that they will respect it. It's how we should all operate in life - by respecting each other's laws and beliefs.

A truism which I follow is from Voltaire's writings. I quote, very roughly, "I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will die fighting for your right to say it." Freedom of speech is a key fundamental in society's ability to live, prosper and grow. Denying the Chinese people this right is only stunting their overall growth as a society, and their country's ability to reach its full potential. However, it's also what will keep the existing administration in power, and we all have seen even democratically elected government go to excessive lengths to retain power.

Whenever I read or hear about the Chinese government's attempts to stifle the free exchange of knowledge within their borders, I think of Plato's Republic, and the Allegory of the Cave. If you haven't read it, go get a copy, please read Book VII of the Republic, and enjoy - it's one of the most powerful stories ever put to text. Does the Chinese government not think that somehow, someday, their people will emerge from "the cave"?

The Internet is the greatest education tool the world has ever seen. Knowledge will get into China, and be widely shared, this just will slow it down a little. Like disease, it does not respect physical borders, nor does it move at a predictable speed. It can be stifled and surpressed, but it cannot be eradicated.

Searching for knowledge is the business we all are in, or are wittingly or unwittingly in the business of accelerating. The amount of information that I was exposed to as a child was breathtaking for my parents in comparison to their own childhood. I can't even begin to compare what I experienced with all which our children now have the opportunity to learn and experience, thanks to the Internet, and search engine's ability to deliver answers to almost any question we pose to them.

Search is the most basic of human desires. I believe that it truly is the 'oldest profession' - after all, curiousity is a reflection of the search for knowledge, isn't it?

I wonder how this Chinese policy can be viewed in relation to their promises and commitments re: Beijing 2008? Do you think that a number of these policies will be quietly lifted before and during the Games?