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1/5/2009
02:25 PM
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China Crackdown Puts Google, Baidu, Others On Notice

Critics speculate that the country's efforts to scrub pornography and vulgarity off its citizens' computers may end up being used to squash political dialogue.

China's State Council Information Office on Monday held a press conference in Beijing with six other government ministries to denounce online pornography and vulgarity as a serious danger to the mental and physical health of Chinese citizens.

Reports on the event in China's government-controlled media show officials seizing computer equipment from an unidentified office, according to Reuters.

The meeting heralds a new nationwide campaign to clean up the Internet as the politically sensitive 20th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown approaches.

At the press conference, 19 Internet sites were singled out for illegal and unhealthy content. Google Search and Google Image Search led the list for failing to take effective action against porn content. Baidu, Google's primary search competitor in China, also made the list, as did other popular Chinese sites, including Sohu and Tencent.

Chinese officials urged law enforcement officials to deal with lawbreakers sternly.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A Google spokesperson in Beijing told Reuters that Google obeys the law in countries where it operates.

China isn't alone in its desire to control the Internet. Australia's government has been under fire for its proposed plan to create what critics are calling "the Great Aussie Firewall," a reference to the moniker for China's Internet filtering system, "the Great Firewall of China."

Rebecca MacKinnon, assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong's Journalism and Media Studies Center, questioned whether the crackdown would stop at porn censorship. "It is of course unclear to what extent this anti-smut crackdown is or isn't going to lead to a tightening on politically sensitive content as well," she writes in her blog. "Historically in China (if you can call the story of China's Internet 'history'), the technology used to censor porn has ended up being used more vigorously to censor political content than smut."

Danwei.org, an English-language Chinese news blog based in Hong Kong, finds irony in the government's crusade against porn, coming as it does on the same day that pictures of Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi clad in a bikini are being published all over the Chinese Internet, including on the government's People's Daily Web site.

"This campaign is very similar to countless content cleansing campaigns over the past few years," writes Danwei's Alice Xin Liu. "It does not signify much except that the Net Nanny is making sure everyone knows who is boss before the Chinese New Year starts."

Scott Henderson, who maintains The Dark Visitor, a blog about Chinese hackers, speculates that the crackdown, rather than restoring social order, could make Chinese youth more unruly. Given what he describes as the lack of sex education in China and the male gender imbalance stemming from the country's "One Child Policy," he sees the reduced availability of adult content as a recipe for dissatisfaction.

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