Sunday, March 30, 2008

I just wish they'd make their f***ing minds up!

(A cross-post from The Barstool.)

As of yesterday, Blogspot was blocked again in China. Blocked, that is, to the 'second level'.

Blogspot is almost always blocked at its regular IP address. However, most of us foreigners are usually able to access it easily enough via
an alternate IP address we've plugged into our Firefox browser. At the 'second level' of censorship arsiness, that gets blocked too.

The 'third level' is blocking even via robust proxy services like Anonymouse. We had that for a while a couple of weeks ago; but mercifully, the Kafka Boys aren't quite that pissed off with us at the moment.

I imagine blocking a multi-server proxy like that must be quite a complex undertaking. So, sometimes the chaps down at Kafka Central will just skip straight to the next level - which appears to be blocking the Net access of individual computers (an IT boffin I know didn't think this was possible, or at least had never heard of it being done - but I've now encountered two other foreigners who suffered from this, as I did, the other week).

The 'fifth level' - one step more extreme than that, but rather easier to implement - would be cutting off your home Internet connection entirely. (Although I suppose these days most people are using wi-fi a lot of the time; that would explain the appeal of blocking computers rather than connections. Maybe blocking a specific computer should actually be regarded as a higher level of obstructiveness.)

And the 'sixth level' would be being taken into custody. I would imagine that only native 'dissidents' would be in danger of that. We irreverent, super-critical laowai will simply be told - if we make one unsuitable joke too many - that our visas or our tax records are out of order, and be asked to leave the country at a few hours' notice.

This constant on/off/on censorship is very wearisome. I am having big problems getting Tor or Hotspot or (new candidate for top proxy gizmo, just recommended to me by a friend) FoxyProxy to work for me (my computer is old and slow, the wiring into my building is old and slow, the Chinese Internet architecture in general is pretty bloody slow, and with all of the extra filtering going on at the moment - well, the whole bloody thing is grinding to a halt). Thus, I am having to rely on web-based proxies, and these can be rather cumbersome in some ways. I am vexed. Mighty vexed.

But I think I'd be a lot less vexed if I knew that this was going to be the situation from here on and I could steel myself to embrace these irksome adaptations to my online life as permanent. The chopping and changing of the censorship regime every few days adds salt to the wounds, even when it's a change for the better.

This endless vacillating makes the Chinese government look even more buffoonish (buffoonish and goonish - not a good combination!) than usual. It makes it look as if they just can't decide what to block and why. It makes it look as if consistency in policy is quite beyond them. It makes it look (and I suspect there is some truth in this) as though the Internet censorship apparatus is so intricate that they're not really fully in control of it ("Ooops, what does this switch do?").

Also, of course, it fuels panicky speculation about the ongoing civil unrest. "They're tightening up on the Net censorship again! Did something really bad just happen out west??"

Trying to censor the Internet like this is just a really, really, really dumbass thing to do. But this is China. The country is run by a bunch of insecure assclowns.

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