Civil Liberties

Twitter Users Revolt as China Takes Google Offline


Over the past few years, Google has proven a great success in China, capturing more than 30 percent of the online search market. But along the way, it's irked government authorities eager to control the flow of information and ideas. Tensions have grown with the search engine's popularity, and Chinese officials recently ordered the company to suspend some services in the country under the hard-to-believe pretense that the search engine allowed access to pornography. Now, reports indicate that the Chinese government has used its filtering system, the so-called Great Firewall of China, to take all major Google services, including chat, mail, and search, offline entirely — and the country's Twittering webheads aren't happy. TechCrunch reports:

The People's Republic of China has apparently barred its citizens from visiting a host of Google properties, including the main search engine, Google Apps, Google Reader and Gmail. A search on Twitter (preferred hashtag seems to have become #fuckgfw) reveals that many Chinese are complaining, particularly about not being able to use the search engine, although it appears can still be reached at this point.

Some human rights advocates have argued in the past that Google should simply refuse to do business with China because of the country's human-rights abuses. I'm sympathetic to the argument, but it's always seemed to me that any Google presence in the country is better than none, particularly given that its presence, even in a limited form, is likely to help dissidents find ways around government censorship. The downside, as evident here, is that any service that proves a useful enough tool is bound to attract the ire of authorities. 

The good news, however is that, just as in Iran, Twitter seems to have provided an outlet for organized complaint and information-sharing. It's a minor victory, but in the battle between free expression and government control, I'll take what I can get.

Last week, Reason senior editor Michael Moynihan wrote about how Iranian protestors are using Twitter to organize and spread information. Back in 2003, Brian Doherty wrote about China's war on cybercafes.