Chinese Democracy

Sales pitch to China:

Hey, have some Capitalism – yeah it’s good stuff, Free Market it up baby, yeah, you can be our most-favored trading partner, alright? How’s that sound? Great, terrific, maybe we can buy a few of your companies as soon as they get big enough to be useful to competitive with us, okay? What’s that? Freedom? Democracy? Hmm, let me check with my people in inventory and get back to you on that, I’m not sure we have any back at the warehouse.

American companies are happy thrilled to do business with China, selling Brand America (Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Nike, etc.) far and wide across borders and pushing the American Dream on billions of people around the world who can’t afford shoes, much less Air Jordans.

So now Microsoft launches Spaces, its blog-hosting service, in China, only there’s one catch: users are prevented from using the words freedom or democracy in the titles of their blogs.

For the full story, check out Global Voices.

Robert Scoble’s reactions are here and here, including what I find to be some really naive stuff about “changing the system from the inside”.

Robert, that’s a sort of argument I use a lot to justify putting up with the negative aspects of certain communications technologies — the idea is that ANY access is GOOD access, but I don’t think it applies here. Microsoft and other corporations will take Chinese money, will sell American products to China, but they will not express any sort of moral judgment of their politics. You put up a wall of “We’re not Chinese, so we don’t get to decide what’s best for them” but you certainly continue to sell them your products. This sort of hypocrisy is what the US government will never outgrow, and it might be up to relatively intelligent companies like Microsoft and Google to get over it and take some responsibility for offering communication tools — the responsibility to make sure people can actually use them to communicate freely.

UPDATE: Rebecca MacKinnon of Global Voices has posted a direct response to Scoble here. Rebecca: “The issue is whether Microsoft should be collaborating with the Chinese regime as it builds an increasingly sophisticated system of Internet censorship and control.”

MORE: Dare Obasanjo, who works on the MSN Spaces team at Microsoft, clarifies matters for the masses of people not getting their facts straight on this subject, but at no point does he present any sort of normative argument for why it’s okay to censor the words “freedom” and “democracy” as opposed to the words “BritneySpearsNakedPhotos”. To those defending the practice by saying only the title of the blog, URL, and post titles are censored: this is the equivalent of forbidding the words “communist” or “socialist” from ever appearing in a US newspaper headline — would that be okay for a large newspaper chain to do?

COOL: Global Voices has posted a hack that allows MSN Spaces users in China to use the forbidden syntax.

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