BEST OF THE WEB: The great Chinese internet myths

The internet in China has been a contentious topic for years. Not only have reports of censorship made their way into the western media, but massive cyber-attacks suspected to be led by the state haven’t helped, either.

In the minds of many, the internet in China is something of a mystery. Ask anyone who travels there regularly, and you’ll find out why – they’re extra scared about online security.

But as it turns out, we may have the wrong idea when it comes to China’s use of the internet, especially when it comes to censorship. This piece over at Foreign Policy attempts to break down some apparent myths surrounding the use of the web in the world fastest-growing superpower.

The first myth – just because China censors its internet doesn’t mean its citizens are uninformed. As it points out, several know how to access blocked content through VPNs, and can gain access to information that is supposedly banned.

Perhaps the best evidence of netizens' knowledge of their own censorship, though, is their hatred of Fang Binxing, president of Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications and the architect of the censorship system's blocking mechanism, nicknamed "The Great Firewall."

Apparently Fang attracted so many hate comments on a blog he created that it had to be taken down. And when he visited a university, he was pelted with shoes and eggs.

The other myth? It’s the government that censors the internet. Apparently, while this is true to an extent, private companies are responsible for much of the censoring.

Other myths include the fact that citizens aren’t allowed to spread dissent about the government online. According to a Harvard University paper released in October, this just isn’t the case.

About 13 percent of all social media posts were censored. "We had thought certain topics would always be censored, but censorship didn't occur by topic," said Jennifer Pan, the study's co-author and a PhD candidate at Harvard, in an interview.

Instead, censorship was focused on what the study calls posts with "high collective action potential" – that is, posts that "represent, reinforce, or spur social mobilization, regardless of content."

If you’re interested in Chinese use of the internet, you’d do well to check out this piece – you may just find it debunks some of your most stringently held beliefs.

Your Facebook friends are stressing you out

There’s a new report out from the University of Edinburgh Business School which suggests that the “friends” you have on Facebook may actually be stressing you out.

The contention of the report is simple: the more friends you have, the more likely it is that you say something that upsets or offends them. The stress that results is kind of a “pre-emptive, pervasive sense of propriety”.

And as this piece in The Atlantic points out, this is more important than you might realise. If you’re a constant Facebook user, you’d do well to pay attention.

Facebook's power, and its curse, is this holistic treatment of personhood. All the careful tailoring we do to ourselves (and to our selves) – to be, say, professional in one context and whimsical in the other – dissolves in the simmering singularity of the Facebook timeline.

We’ve already seen that in Australia, haven’t we? There have already been cases before Fair Work that attempt to show how what someone said on Facebook, privately, should affect their employment. The wider our network becomes, the more stressed we are.

Makes complete sense, especially when you add in the fact you’re attempting to portray different personalities to whole social groups.

If you’re a heavy Facebook user, check this out. And maybe relax a little.

Windows on a computer? It’ll never happen…

If you use a computer, (and you clearly do, because you’re reading this), then you’re familiar with having to use multiple programs at once in different windows.

Of course, it wasn’t always that way. And just like any piece of technology, there are always nay-sayers. Which is why this opinion piece all the way back from 1984, published on The New York Times, is a doozy – it explains why windowed programs will never happen.

Oops.

The arguments are mostly technical, saying that one program running at a time is always going to run more smoothly than windowed programs. But the best argument is this: That windows are just too complicated.

They made life more difficult, not easier, and they will continue to do so until a video display the size of a desktop can make visible a number of complete documents, each in its own window. That is something unlikely to occur, if for no other reason than cost, for at least a decade.

Again, oops. Check it out, if only for a laugh.

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