Censorship is not unprecedented in China. For several years, China has made headlines over its notorious censorship involving media giants such as Google and Facebook. They limit services such as Netflix, forcing companies to license content to Chinese competitors so that it can be cherry-picked and modified to the likings of the government. On top of that, China only allows 34 international movies annually in local cinemas, which are also vetted by the censors; while superhero movies and cartoons are allowed, historic movies that idolize other cultures are banned. From banning specific search results to limiting citizens to a myopic view of the world, China carefully controls the foreign information accessible online. However, the effects of censorship are not limited to Chinese users only.
China has been benefiting from the double standard of freedom in the United States and the global market. By blocking foreign services while allegedly gathering personal information through telecommunication brands, as well as restricting access on social media, China has been taking advantage of both systems to gather intel nationally and internationally. In China’s point of view, these bans may be a response to American social engineering that is seen as a national security threat. However, perhaps it is not the Chinese who should be concerned with threats to private information.
A few months ago, the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei was banned in the US for supposedly taking American users’ information through its networking equipment. Although Huawei denied all such allegations and the ban on Huawei products has since been lifted, its denial does not seem to fit the overall puzzle. In 2003, another case against Huawei was brought forth, with accusations that it copied Cisco’s networking software in routers. While this is not directly related to information gathering, it undoubtedly is an indication of the capability of the company to act immorally and illegally. But importantly, no Chinese company is independent of its government, which reserves the right to require companies to assist with intelligence gathering.
Although many US companies know about the Chinese firms maliciously gathering information, they do not seem to show concern towards it. They seem to be doing exactly the opposite instead. Due to the recent Hong Kong struggle for pro-democratic ideals, there has been a marked increase in public outrage regarding the Chinese government on social media, including posts from celebrities and people of authority. Recently, Daryl Morey, the manager of the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Houston Rockets tweeted the simple message“Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong”. This alone sparked so much controversy that the NBA has distanced themselves from the manager, potentially putting his job at risk. The tweet was quickly deleted and Morey issued a public apology. Similarly, a professional Hearthstone gamer was recently banned from playing for a year by the American video game development company Blizzard, for mentioning similar issues about Hong Kong.
It may be argued that individual organizations are only reluctantly promoting censorship — in fear of China banning their services and thus facing a loss of revenue. However, other countries are now beginning to self-censor posts on online platforms. The publicly-revealed idea of censorship seems to be insidiously spreading. Economic gain may be the goal for companies and organizations such as Blizzard and the NBA, but it must not be allowed to come at the cost of freedom of speech. Article 19 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart “information through any media and regardless of frontiers”. Clearly, there have been repeated violations of this, and it is shocking that no effective measures are being taken to ensure the protection of human rights. Although Americans are most proud of their freedom, now it seems that this freedom is fading away.