Is the Revolution Unstoppable?

Posted on November 3, 2011 by

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A few articles ago, I explored the question of whether social media use was becoming more mandatory than perhaps it was designed for.  One of the social media platforms I discussed was Weibo, from China, and how the Chinese people are using it to have a voice in the political arena.  Today, China fights back.

In order to regain some of the control it has lost to Weibo, the Chinese government is taking measures to reduce the people’s access to it.  This would appear to be the natural solution to the growing difficulties monitoring and controlling the political environment, yet it is not without its pitfalls.  China is not the first country to consider taking such steps.  In January, 2011, Egypt cut off all Internet access to keep those within the country from contacting the outside world and to keep the outside world from seeing what was happening inside of Egypt.  Unlike with China, there was no advanced warning that Egypt would consider taking such measures, let alone that they would act on them.  The entire country simply disappeared.  Why, then, did this not solve Egypt’s problems?

The World Took Notice

With all of the political unease happening, the world was already watching Egypt.  Had this been at any other time, the act might have gone unnoticed for a day or two.  The damage would have been done before anyone on the outside realized there had ever been a problem.  However, Egypt chose the height of the world scrutiny to flip the switch.

The Egyptian People Noticed Too

If Egypt’s plan was to quell the uprising, it failed.  Miserably.  Not only did the uprising not disperse, the Egyptian people caused a regime change the effects of which are still rippling through the Middle East in what people are calling the Arab Spring.  If anything, the government’s action only fueled the people’s anger and encouraged them to keep fighting, and to fight harder.

What does this mean for China?  Perhaps nothing.  Chinese officials announced their plans yesterday, prior to implementing them, which means both the Chinese people and the world at large are aware of them.  If the backlash of these plans is too great, China retains the option of scrapping them without acting on them.  One concern is China’s population which, in July 2011, was 1,336,718,015.  Of those, China acknowledges over 400 million are using the Internet in some form.  To put this into perspective, the US population according to the 2010 Census was 308 million.  Imagine if every man, woman, and child in the US used the Internet, and then added 100 million more people to that picture.  Add to it the fact that Internet communication is the only way to be politically active in your country because of government control.  Now, take away that access.  This has the potential to cause widespread chaos.  Yet, internal strife should not be China’s only concern.  China has a history of human right’s violations.  These violations mean that the world is constantly watching China.

This brings up a new question: Is access to the Internet a right?  According to the United Nations, it is.  In May, 2011, the UN released a report that states cutting off access to the Internet is in violation of International Law.  However, there are some loopholes.  This report does not condemn censorship.  It simply states that cutting off the Internet in its entirety is illegal.

Depending on how China handles their planned crackdown, there may not be much for the world community to do but sit back and observe the outcome.  So long as the Chinese government does not remove complete access to the Internet, there will not be any grounds for the UN to intervene beyond, perhaps, suggestions.  The Chinese people will need to decide for themselves whether their voices are worth the consequences of fighting back.  I hope they are.

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