In tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal, the newspaper reports on “Bloggers In China Start Testing Limits Of ‘Mental Firewall’ “:
“Inside China, however, some of the smartest thinkers about the Internet believe the biggest hurdle to free speech in China isn’t technical, it’s social. China’s 162 million Internet users are a largely young and wealthy set who typically aren’t engaged in politics. Most don’t seem intent on accessing the sort of content that would upset the authorities. They are busy amassing virtual weapons in online games and posting photos to blogs. But when content does get political, the government doesn’t have to do all the censoring itself. Behind the Great Firewall, it relies on Internet companies to take down content that might offend the party or risk their business licenses. A third line is self-censorship. Isaac Mao, a blogging pioneer in China, has dubbed this problem China’s “mental firewall. “The big problem in China now is free thinking,” says Mr. Mao.”It’s tricky, because self-censorship has helped to protect people,” says Mr. Mao. But he adds that these self-imposed restrictions are stifling expression and, in the long run, his society’s development.””
I completely agree with the long-term implications of self-censorship. There has got to be a personal ‘mental firewall’ preventing China’s Internet population, and broader society, from expressing personal unpopular thoughts for fear of reprisal. The broader implications to not being able to think “freely” I think this does have a long-term implications on China’s ability to innovate, let alone the basic human right of free expression. Think about it – I don’t have to self-censor my posting for fear of any U.S. government intervention, only to self-censor not to sound stupid :-).