Monday, May 08, 2006

A Civilized Internet

An all-volunteer force of 500 students work covertly from the shadows of Internet conversation and bulletin board postings to guide interactions toward a "harmonious society." The program enlists students at China's Shanghai Normal University to monitor, steer conversation with well-place comments, and report anything they believe to be offensive. The campaign is entitled "Let the Winds of a Civilized Internet Blow," but the wind is being so carefully controlled that few other students even know it exists.

"Five hundred members sounds unbelievable," said a male undergraduate who, fearing official reprisals, asked that he be identified only as Zhu. "It feels very weird to think there are 500 people out there anonymously trying to guide you."
Hu Yingying, a plain-dressed, ordinary, yet eager sophomore at the university, is proud of the contribution she makes to the effort for a moral society. "We don't control things," she said, "but we really don't want bad or wrong things to appear on the Web sites. According to our social and educational systems, we should judge what is right and wrong ... I need to play a pioneer role among other students, to express my opinion, and make stronger my belief in Communism."

This NYTimes story (May 8, "As Chinese Students Go Online, Little Sister Is Watching") reads too close for comfort to notions of what could happen in the U.S. if increasing numbers of us continue to believe that freedom of speech and individual civil liberties should be subject to law and governed in the name of moral imperative. Let it not be so.

1 comment:

narrator said...

This is scary. And yet, not unexpected there, and terrifyingly, not unlikely to be duplicated on some US campuses (I know certain colleges that monitor Xanga, FaceBook, and MySpace this way). What was most frightening was the attitude of the informers, who were doing this for "safety" reasons. I hear deep echoes of our Patriot Act.