James Fallows's epic 4,221-word article on the Great Firewall of China in The Atlantic breaks with geek convention. When writing about China's technological efforts to block undesirable Web content, we're supposed to conclude that censorship is damage, and the Internet will route around it. (Wired did so last October.) Fallows instead concludes that all the Chinese authorities have to do is make finding unlawful content on the Internet slightly annoying. The masses of people with more interesting things to do than configure proxy servers will comply. But what we really like is how The Atlantic pitched this story to us: Fallows's work isn't a provocative thinkpiece on the nature of censorship in the age of the Internet, it's service journalism! Who cares about the Chinese people — you just want to know if the Internet will work when you travel to Beijing for the Olympics. Forthwith, the PR person's suggested questions, and answers extracted from Fallows piece:
- Will foreigners traveling to China for the Olympics experience Internet difficulties when corresponding with family and friends back home?
The government bodies in charge of censoring the Internet have told [engineers] to get ready to unblock access from a list of specific Internet Protocol (IP) addresses — certain Internet cafés, access jacks in hotel rooms and conference centers where foreigners are expected to work or stay during the Olympic Games.
- (Translation: No.)
- How do foreign businesses in China operate with the Great Firewall in place?
A VPN, or virtual private network ... creates your own private, encrypted channel that runs alongside the normal Internet. From within China, a VPN connects you with an Internet server somewhere else. Every foreign business operating in China uses such a network.
- What are the methods commonly used to bypass the firewall?
"Anyone in China who wants to get around the firewall can choose between two well-known and dependable alternatives: the proxy server and the VPN.
- Why doesn't the Chinese government do more to enforce the surveillance systems it worked so hard to create?
What the government cares about is making the quest for information just enough of a nuisance that people generally won't bother. Most Chinese people, like most Americans, are interested mainly in their own country. All around them is more information about China and things Chinese than they could possibly take in. By making the search for external information a nuisance, they drive Chinese people back to an environment in which familiar tools of social control come into play.