If you go into the average American household, one of the first things that you will see is a computer or some form of technology that can access the Internet such as a phone or tablet. While some people still do not have this technology due to financial differences, the majority do. Every day, people use the Internet to do things like checking Facebook, checking E-mails, or writing blogs like this one. In America, people have the freedom to go online and do what they please. They are able to freely express themselves. This is a freedom that is often taken for granted because in some countries, there is still a struggle for that freedom. In particular, China is a country that has recently been on the hot stove due to its restrictions on free Internet access.
In China, one cannot simply go online and do what he/she pleases. Take Facebook for instance, millions of Americans have an account and are constantly checking it, updating statuses, and communicating with people. Try to do that in China and see what happens. I will ruin the surprise for you, it doesn’t work. You can’t access Facebook, or Twitter, or even Google for that matter. Yes, Google, the foundation of the Internet that so many people rely on day in and day out. When you try to search these websites, there is a firewall that blocks them. This isn’t any ordinary firewall installed on the average computer to protect against viruses. No, this is a firewall installed by the Chinese government to prevent its citizens from having free rights and the ability to communicate with the outside world. This firewall is referred to as the “Great Firewall”. Just the name alone sounds imposing.
This is the main reason President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama went to China recently, to talk about Internet freedom. Michelle Obama stepped up and is at the forefront of the work. She spoke to a group of students at the Stanford Center at Peking University in Beijing about how freedom on the Internet should be a natural right and the fact that the Chinese government does not allow its citizens Internet freedom is oppressive in and wrong.
Michelle Obama is right. The creation of the Internet has allowed for so much in this world. Mainly, it has provided people with a place to freely express themselves. Go online and you will find blogs, videos, music, art work and more. These are prime examples of human expression and isn’t that what is wanted in the world? People have fought wars, petitioned, and protested to gain the right to have a voice in society. Look at the women’s suffrage movement or the black civil rights movement in America. Both are instances where people were fed up with being oppressed and wanted a voice in their community. Women wanted to be able to vote and have a say about who goes into the government that controls them. Black people wanted equal rights so they could be treated equally. Both movements show how it is a natural instinct to want to have a voice and say in society. The restrictions imposed on the Chinese government suppress this.
If that isn’t enough, look at the effect of the Internet on the global community in recent years. The Arab Spring was a series of revolts and revolutions in African and Arab nations against their governments starting in 2011. Over five nations revolted. Why were there so many, so quickly you ask? Two words, the Internet. People were able to take videos of the violent and cruel acts committed by the governments’ military and police forces and make them viral through the Internet. The whole world was able to see what was going on. This sparked similar events around the region.
This is exactly as Michelle Obama said in her speech:
It is so important for information to flow freely over the Internet and through the media.
People can see what is going on in the world and can contribute to causes and make differences. Why limit people who can help? There is no harm in lifting the Internet restrictions imposed by the Chinese government. They want to limit political dissidents but the restrictions just make people feel more oppressed, which can, and most likely will be a cause of the dissidence that the Chinese government is trying to prevent.
As of now, the Internet restrictions are still being imposed by the Chinese government. People continue to fight for free speech; hopefully, the visit by the Obama administration will knock some sense into the government. Just recently, some Chinese officials have reached out to the Secretary of State John Kerry and asked for help with taking down the “Great Firewall”. Maybe this will be the first step to people getting their voice in China.
[Image Attribute: ronancrowley via Compfight cc]