The interview I dubbed “the dark interview” is back for round 3.
More on that project in a minute (unless you want to go back now and watch/read the first segment of our interview here: “It’s Time To Demolish The Great Firewall of China”).
I have been researching the Chinese Internet technology market a lot this past year. I studied abroad in Singapore (where I shot this interview) and traveled to China for 3 weeks in November. I was interested in how important it would be to win the Chinese citizens’ support in order for the movement towards demolishing the Great Firewall to be successful.
PUBLIC SENTIMENT TOWARDS THE CHINESE GOVERNMENT
As I understand it right now, China’s current sentiment towards its government is a net positive one. As Ben points out, the Chinese government is uncommonly smart when it comes to ‘economic engineering’. While many of our government officials in the USA have law school backgrounds, China’s government authorities are mostly trained as engineers. Why is this important? Because they have been very successful at using technical solutions to improve societal problems. As a result, they have brought significant economic benefit to many ordinary people in China. And, these people esteem the power of their government.
So, If a movement like Project West Chamber is going to be successful in its endeavor to “demolish the Great Fire Wall altogether”, it will need much more than vast technical expertise. It is going to need the overwhelming support of Chinese citizens.
PROJECT WEST CHAMBER TO THE RESCUE
If you’re still unfamiliar with Project West Chamber at this point, it is an open source, underground initiative that is trying to make it more difficult for China to censor the Internet. Their cardinal mission is to free China entirely of the Great Fire Wall’s censorship. I asked Ben if Project West Chamber was seeking funding. He said that they are not, and they don’t need it because the people that are working hard for the project are driven by the innate desire to do something that they believe is good is for their fellow countrymen. They want to make a difference.
Ben explains in the interview that If Project West Chamber grows, it is ultimately bad for the government because it will require more time and effort on their behalf to keep the Internet’s ever growing volume of content censored.
Ben believes that the core reason China’s government censors the Internet in the first place is because it “just wants to control the people”. He also asserts that one reason they are willing to pony up the estimated 200 Million RMB (US $30 Million) per year on maintaining and expanding the Great Fire Wall to censor the Internet is to protect their image of power to the country.
Another point in the interview that particularly piqued my interest was when Ben talked about the people hired by the Chinese government to maintain the Great Fire Wall. He said that they are technical people, and that many of them are supporters of Project West Chamber and the basic initiative of demolishing the Great Fire Wall. Talk about a conflict of interest.
BEN CROX’S PREDICTIONS
I talked to Ben recently about some of his predictions for what’s next in the ongoing story of Internet censorship in China. Ben says that more and more people are subscribing to Virtual Private Networks (VPN) nowadays and paying to access the uncensored Internet. He also pointed out that the amount of Simplified Chinese tweets is “overwhelming”, and he doesn’t think the tweets are coming from people in Hong Kong or Taiwan. He thinks they’re coming from within China.
In the 2nd segment of our interview (watch and read it here: “Understand China’s Great Fire Wall“), Ben proposed that the Chinese ‘Twitter clone’ Sina Weibo was “likely worth more than Twitter itself”. This was less than a year after it launched. He reaffirmed his position to me recently and stated that “the size of Sina Weibo will eventually out-weigh Twitter.”
But that was not Ben’s boldest prediction. In an inspiring moment, he wrote to me that ultimately “no one can control or contain the sheer volume of Chinese free speech.”
I’d like to briefly thank 4 people: Ben, for agreeing to do the interview and talking candidly about China. You can follow him on Twitter here. Emily Donohue, for managing my camera. Ting Gao, for providing thoughtful ‘questions from the audience’. And last but not least, You for reading this far!
QUESTION: What do you think it will take for the Internet censorship in China to be completely demolished?