Don't like censorship? Stay out of China

A view of central Beijing


Bill Radke: Twenty years ago today, Chinese soldiers fired on their own citizens near Tiananmen Square. The whole world knows about those events. But inside China, you're gonna have a hard time finding it on the Internet. That information cut-off is a major challenge to American dot-com firms as they try to profit from the world's largest Internet population. From Shanghai, Marketplace's Scott Tong reports.

Scott Tong: Try to Flickr your photos or Twitter your blog in China today and you come to this digital destination: Page Load Error. China's net police have cut off access to these sites, plus MySpace, Wikipedia and YouTube.

It's the digital equivalent of the real-life fence that went up around Tiananmen Square last night. Common wisdom says Beijing wants to keep out any inflammatory videos or commentary that might stir up the masses on this 20th anniversary. For U.S. dot-com firms, it all makes for virtual indigestion.

David Wolf heads a corporate advisory in Beijing:

David Wolf: It's sort of the cost of doing business here. The price that you pay for access to, you know, hundreds of millions of eyeballs.

And the cost is high, since the American firms by and large are losing to Chinese competitors. The Chinese sites steer clear of the censors by filtering out touchy content.

Wolf thinks the Americans need to play by the same rules to win here:

Wolf: Well you can call it in-house editors, you can call it self-censorship, call it whatever you want. If you don't want to make those compromises, don't come to China.

But opponents of those compromises say the American firms should defend free speech around the world.

Beijing will likely unblock sites like YouTube and Twitter in the next couple of days -- at least until the next anniversary.

In Shanghai, I'm Scott Tong for Marketplace.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.


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