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Monday, October 29, 2018

Strategic CSR - Censorship

It is difficult to think of life without Google, Facebook, or Twitter (for good or bad). In China, however, these everyday companies are virtually unknown:
"A generation of Chinese is coming of age with an internet that is distinctively different from the rest of the web. Over the past decade, China has blocked Google, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as well as thousands of other foreign websites, including The New York Times and Chinese Wikipedia."
The key is censorship. The government wants to control the information that its citizens are exposed to, so will not permit companies that don't provide such access. Hence, the rise of Chinese companies that provide the same purpose as Google (Baidu), WhatsApp (WeChat), and Twitter (Weibo) in the West. While we might call them imitations or alternatives, in China they are all the current young generation know:
"Now the implications of growing up with this different internet system are starting to play out. Many young people in China have little idea what Google, Twitter or Facebook are, creating a gulf with the rest of the world. And, accustomed to the homegrown apps and online services, many appear uninterested in knowing what has been censored online, allowing Beijing to build an alternative value system that competes with Western liberal democracy."
Given the pace of innovation and growth of online companies, the government needs to work hard to keep up:
"In the first half of this year, the internet regulator Cyber Administration of China said it had shut down or revoked the licenses of more than 3,000 websites."
This is not only an attempt to control society's values, however, but is also a form of economic protectionism. Without competition from the massive Western companies, the Chinese equivalents have grown strong and, as the article reports, the government is now looking to export their success:
"These trends are set to spread. China is now exporting its model of a censored internet to other countries, including Vietnam, Tanzania and Ethiopia."
The danger, of course, given the size and value of the Chinese market is that the Western companies will be more than willing to compromise to gain access:
"Google has been working on a censored search engine for China's smartphone users in case the government lets it in. And last month, Facebook gained approval to open a subsidiary in the eastern province of Zhejiang — only to see the approval quickly withdrawn."
Take care
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A Very Different Internet Under Beijing's Control
By Li Yuan
August 7, 2018
The New York Times
Late Edition – Final