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Editorial: With censorship lifted, many in China react with hunger for information

Jan. 27, 2010

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Claire Taylor | Lariat Staff

Google China users have recently been able to search terms like "Tiananmen Square" and "democracy," whereas in the past, such a search would have returned nothing but a continuously loading page or error message.

This recent cyber freedom is a result of Google's choice to no longer censor its Chinese search engine following December cyber attacks. The attacks by Chinese hackers led to stolen intellectual property and breached Gmail accounts, according to a statement posted on the company's blog. The Internet giant responded with equal force on Jan. 12 by unblocking all content previously censored on Google.cn.

The significance of the Google-China cyber war is unmatched. The most dominant Internet presence made a bold statement in support of free speech to a nation whose power rests upon its censorship capabilities. Google's move put China in a precarious position on the world stage, forcing the nation's leaders to see the diplomatic ramifications of censorship.

Considering that China's censorship policies and a vast information bank called the Internet were never compatible, Google's sudden action was beneficial in addressing the inevitable clash.

As Google stated in its release, many companies have been subject to Chinese hacking, but none have come forward with as much zeal as this Internet giant.

Google's stance is a possibly revolutionary turning point in China's control of cyber information, especially for the new Internet-savvy generation of Chinese. Likewise, an important aspect of this stand off has been the wired generation's show of support for Google and, in effect, free speech.

As proof of this phenomenon, on Jan. 18, just days after censors were lifted, the search term "Truth of Tiananmen" skyrocketed, becoming the second-fastest searched term on Google.cn, as reported by Bloomberg News Jan. 18.

This signifies a noteworthy undermining of China's power to a generation that yearns for the access to information. It shows that Google's support of the freedom to information at the possible expense of business in China has inspired this generation of information-seekers.

This generation has made its desires known through blogs and the Chinese blogging community, which has seen persecution in the past, has made its voice heard following the recent controversy.

Following Google's announcement, Chinese message boards and microblogs were abuzz with comments ranging from apathy at Google's possible pullout to fear at the thought of losing the Web giant's presence.

The U.S. has not shied away from giving its opinion on Internet censorship, with U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton's visit to China on Thursday. In her speech, she claimed that there was an increase in cyber threats over the past year in China, which elicited a harsh reaction from China, accusing the U.S. of "information imperialism."

While this sort of reaction was to be expected from the prideful nation, the U.S. was right to voice its opinion and support Google's brazen efforts.

Although it is doubtful that China will cave under the pressure of Google and its supporters, Google's actions were beneficial in spurring debate about Chinese censorship and showing China just how precarious its hold on information is in an information age.