The protests in Iran that followed the contested election there have been notable for the degree to which they have made use of social media tools such as Twitter. The historical significance of this has been covered elsewhere, but it is particularly interesting as seen from China, where Twitter and other services were recently blocked in the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests.
Iranian authorities seem to be trying to block access to Twitter and frequently used web proxies, but this has clearly met with little success. The follies of China’s Net Nanny and other censorship efforts aside – consider the backlash the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) has faced over its leaky Green Dam Youth Escort web filtering software – China’s online censorship regime is comparatively effective. Part of that is due to its unpredictability, designed to instill a kind of learned helplessness. Trying to control the world’s largest internet population has given China unsurpassed experience in censoring online content.
That makes me wonder if MIIT might consider marketing its home-grown system overseas. China does not have many claims to leadership in advanced technology, but in internet censorship, it is the uncontested champion. Yes, China’s system is built upon hardware made by foreign firms like Cisco systems, but the know-how China has gained puts it in a perfect position to act as a censorship consultant to foreign governments. Maybe a technology transfer to sweeten future energy deals with countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia? Yes, it’s cynical bordering on paranoid, but it must have crossed the minds of at least a few entrepreneurial-minded MIIT officials.