It's been over a week since Google's surprise revelation that they would no longer be filtering search results in the People's Republic of China and the shock still hasn't seemed to have worn off for most people. I think we're playing up the significance far too much.
The consensus, from Twitter folk to newspaper writers seems to be Google's move is scaring the communist party and it's only a matter of time before the very fabric of the country falls to pieces as free speech and beer start pouring from every rooftop. I think I got my analogy a bit confused there.
I think it'd be healthy if we all take a step back, stop foaming at the mouth and look at this realistically.
The Chandler Bing Factor
Firstly, I think most people forget that while Google owns and dictates the terms of the search market in the English speaking world, they're minnows in others. Baidu rules the roost in China, not Google. If Baidu all of a sudden refused to filter search results I think it would be newsworthy, but as it stands now it'd be as if Bing announced something like this in the English speaking world. A few stories will be written up, some hysteria would be generated but most people wouldn't know or care, and the norm wouldn't change.
It's clear the Orwellian restrictions on free speech in places like China are not sustainable and will inevitably collapse upon themselves after enough people start to chip away at their foundations (I think I mixed up another analogy, crap) but let's not play up this event with Google in a similar vein to the second coming of a deity or a new type of grilled cheese sandwich maker.
Hypocrisy sounds like a water dwelling adhesive
Along with the placing of too much significance on this event, there's another angle in all of this that I think is being ignored by most of the mainstream press and it regards something going on closer to home.
Shortly before my family trip to Europe in December I posted a quote drawing comparisons between the Great Firewall of China and the proposed mandatory internet filter in Australia. I got a comment from James, the writer for DigitAsia:
It saddens me that western countries are critical of China’s Great Firewall when they fail to practice what they preach. The Great Australian Firewall is just another example of western hypocrisy- and just another reason for China to rightly resent the west.
I think it's a bit of a stretch to equate the persecution of political dissidents in China with the actions of the Australian government (and its an insult to those people who have been persecuted) but I wholeheartedly agree the West is in no position to criticise free speech and press in China when they themselves are setting up draconian filter systems and monitoring, whether it be the Great Firewall of Australia or the wire-tapping of phones by the NSA in the United States, or the so called "three strikes rule" for accused (not convicted) file sharers being debated in various parliaments around the world as we speak.
Sorry I scared myself, I started to get a bit too serious there which is not in keeping with the tone of this blog. The Bird is the Word. Alan A'Dale. Grilled cheese sandwiches. That's better.