The Blog

The Yahoo! Kowtow

From the August 5, 2002 issue: China's dictators want a self-censoring Internet. Yahoo! wants to help.

12:00 AM, Jul 30, 2002 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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INFORMATION that might "jeopardize state security and disrupt social stability, contravene laws and regulations and spread superstition and obscenity" will, effective Aug. 1, no longer be posted by major Internet portals in China, thanks to their participation in the voluntary Public Pledge on Self-Discipline for the China Internet Industry.

Most notable among the self-censoring signatories of the pledge is U.S.-based Yahoo!, which maintains a Chinese-language website. It appears to be the only non-China-based company among the hundreds that have bowed to Beijing's pressure to uphold "the ethical norms of the socialist cultural civilization." But signing such a pact is only the most recent in a series of capitulations by Yahoo! and other American companies that have eroded hopes that widespread Internet access would be instrumental in bringing democracy to China, a trend reported on by Ethan Gutmann in these pages earlier this year (Who Lost China's Internet? Feb. 25, 2002). China's more than 38 million Internet users remain effectively isolated from information that might be a threat to the Chinese government, unless they choose to use one of the circuitous and illegal routes being shut down daily in the name of public safety.

There are good odds that ingenious geeks will continue to outwit the Chinese bureaucracy and gain access to forbidden material for the enterprising Chinese user, but in the meantime Yahoo!China has chosen to be part of the problem, not the solution.