January 29, 2006

Major Left-Wing Blogs Appear to Be Virtually Silent on Google-China Censorship

Here’s a real puzzler that I hope I am wrong about:

Am I the only person noticing a silence, bordering on total, from the big lefty blogs on Google’s co-operation with the Chinese government in search-result censorship?

There are plenty of examples in history of the Left looking the other way when oppression rears its ugly head. Just one — the non-reactions of presidential candidates Gene McCarthy and George McGovern in 1968 when the Russian tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia and crushed the Prague Spring, as documented by Evans & Novak in their column just before that year’s Democratic convention (sorry, I don’t have a link, but I remember it like it was yesterday; e-mail me if you have a link).

If I am correct, the big left blogs’ ignorance of the Google censorship story may be yet another instance of “see no evil” when it’s perpetrated in the name of a Communist government.

Here’s what I’ve done to check into the coverage (as of roughly 2:30 PM ET; click on the links indicated to do the searches yourself):

  • A search on “ Google” and “China” at Daily Kos gave only results pre-dating Google’s move in both instances. (Note: The Kos searches were very slow when I did them, and you may have to try multiple times to get a result.)
  • A search on “Google” and “China” at MyDD yielded the same results — every listing pre-dated Google’s move.
  • A very recent entry (12:18 Pacific today as I was updating this post) at Daily Kos, an entry that may not have been indexed for search yet, did cover Google’s move, only to ask: “Has anyone noticed that the American government is BEING MORE INTRUSIVE THAN THE CHINESE ONE? at least in some ways …..”. Uh-huh.
  • I also did a great deal of scrolling through entries at Daily Kos and MyDD while doing a browser word search on “Google,” and found nothing.
  • A browser word search on Atrios’s archive page for January 22-28 on “Google” and “China” found nothing, nor did a browser word search on his home page today.

Note that in all cases that I did NOT look through the comments.

I can’t say for certain that there is absolutely nothing other than the single Bush-Bash entry I found about Google’s China censorship at these three sites, but if there is anything else, it certainly isn’t prominent.

So who’s really living in a bubble? Is it asking too much to expect SOMEONE, especially the bigwigs, at three of the left’s top blogs to notice that over a billion people are having what they can see filtered by an oppressive regime?

Say it ain’t so, Kos, and Atrios, and MyDD.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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UPDATE: A strong anti-Google DailyKos entry appeared at 12:47 Pacific Time, shortly after this post was “finalized” (content was don at about 3:30 Eastern, or 12:30 Pacific, and “Previous Posts” were added at about 4:30 PM ET). Diarist PhiloTBG rips Google a new one “When 1.3 billion people cannot access information about their country’s political history and status, there has been no progress. Google hasn’t made information more available, they’ve made it less accessible by systematizing the work of China’s internet censors into an easy to use platform. Propaganda has never been so easy to spread. The truth has never been so easy to hide. This is Google’s doing and their actions are truly a study in hypocrisy, cowardice, greed, and delusion.”. Good to see from PhiloTBG. This DKos post remains the only one critical of Google at any of the Big Three sites as of 9PM ET. It would still be nice to hear if the bigwigs at the Big Three sites have an opinion, or if they even care.

UPDATE 2: How convincing can it get? Here are Google.com and Google.cn image searches on “Tiananmen” (HT LGF and Ninme).

UPDATE 3: Paul Boutin (HT Instapundit) shows that you can see the tanks through Google China by misspelling “Tiananmen.” A whole new generation of Chinese will probably be initiating creative misspelling, code, and other misdirection efforts soon.

UPDATE 4: MacStansbury and Tel-Chai Nation have posts that plausibly contend, based the left’s efforts to silence free speech here in the US (campaign-finance law, revival of the misnamed “Fairness Doctrine,” etc.), that their silence on Google-China may relate to their wishes to restrict and control political discussion here (campaign-finance law, revival of the misnamed “Fairness Doctrine,” etc.).

UPDATE 5: Props to PhiloTBG for his link to an online petition (see Comment 23 below for more detail if you need it) and the liberal activist group Act for Change for theirs.
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29 Comments

  1. Probabaly, in their view, because every news story that doesn’t involve getting Bush out of office is an attempt to cover up and keep im in office.

    Comment by spacemonkey — January 29, 2006 @ 3:25 pm

  2. Probably.

    pimf

    Comment by spacemonkey — January 29, 2006 @ 3:26 pm

  3. A single blocked web site is a tragedy, a million blocked web sites is a statistic.

    Comment by Niko — January 29, 2006 @ 3:50 pm

  4. Isn’t the problem not with Google, but with China? How is it making the Chinese people worse for Google to offer their services there?

    Comment by Joseph Weisenthal — January 29, 2006 @ 4:11 pm

  5. Google is co-operating in institutionalizing China’s censorship.

    And if the problem is with China rolling an “American” company, that’s still something you’d expect SOMEONE on the lefty blogs to object to.

    Comment by TBlumer — January 29, 2006 @ 4:19 pm

  6. China will censor websites with or without Google’s cooperation. The question is, will the engagement of U.S. business with China hasten democracy or shore up dictatorship. My suggestion is that it’s better to engage, as smart corporations did with apartheid in South Africa (while the self-righteous washed their hands of the whole mess). Any engagement with free market capitalism is likely to accelerate democratization. That’s my own lefty view, for what it’s worth.

    Comment by Paul — January 29, 2006 @ 4:48 pm

  7. Well, I’m a lefty but not a blogger, but for what it’s worth I would make the case that any engagement between free market capitalism and a dictatorship will tend to hasten that dictatorship’s decline. China has censorship and there’s not much Google can do about that in the short term. But in the long-term, the influence of western business is likely to be positive… those companies that engaged in South Africa and helped create incremental improvements did more than those self-righteous firms that disengaged and washed their hands of the whole mess.

    Comment by Paul — January 29, 2006 @ 4:53 pm

  8. #6 and #7, that’s a debate worth having. I don’t happen to agree, because China is still dominated by companies, even publicly traded ones that are dominated by the state.

    I think Google is in danger of institutionalizing the censorship and stifling the development of democracy dead in its tracks.

    I also find it very objectionable that Google won’t provide basic info to US DOJ investigators in child-porn cases (requests that I oppose, BTW) but yet will bend over and do the Chinesse government’s bidding, including (see part of previous post from today) preventing access to religious content. If they didn’t cooperate either case I could see it. To not cooperate with the USDOJ while doing the Chinese Govt’s bidding is breathtakingly hypocritical, esp given their supposed values.

    Comment by TBlumer — January 29, 2006 @ 4:59 pm

  9. I suspect that it is the refusal by Google to provide wide swaths of private information to the US government that is causing this whole thing. The agreements with China are a RUSE. Google certainly is not the only, nor the first, to do business with China, and WE ALL KNOW what they do over there.

    Besides, the left is trying to protect the rights of citizens in THIS country. Where are your priorities? Save everyone but yourselves. You really ARE suckers.

    Comment by John Williams — January 29, 2006 @ 5:05 pm

  10. Why would the lefty blogs care about this? Do you think they care one way or another about freedom in China?

    Where is the tie-in to Bush-Cheney-Halliburton-Republicans? Find that and they will get interested in a hurry.

    Comment by flenser — January 29, 2006 @ 5:14 pm

  11. Even if you are for engagement over boycott, it’s an important issue that deserves talking about. Engagement has the possibility of turning into quisling assistance over time without oversight. The left could help provide it. It’s not. That’s a shame.

    Comment by TM Lutas — January 29, 2006 @ 6:00 pm

  12. This is silly. Do you think if Google doesn’t go there, Chinese internet users will just twiddle their thumbs and not search for stuff?

    Of course not. There are Chinese search engines that are almost the same, and they will (and have been) use those.

    If anything, Google going into China is a net benefit to the Chinese people, same as MSN was.

    Why?

    American companies censor like the government forces them to, but as we see in the case of MSN, they are FAR MORE LAX about censorship and reporting of suspect activities than similar Chinese companies.

    Getting Google into the Chinese market will probably neither slow nor accelerate the demise of China’s ruling regime, when and if that comes; the vast majority of Foreign Direct Investment in China comes from abroad.

    As far as the “Resistance to evil” factor, what one might call “washing our hands”, that ship sailed a long time ago. The economic miracle that has been the Party’s foundation of legitimacy in China was financed largely by overseas Chinese, not American multinationals. China is not like the Soviet Union, where dissidents could take comfort that somewhere, out there, there was someone who would fight the Soviets to the end. That just isn’t the case in China, and Google’s decision makes no difference.

    I’m sorry that Google’s action makes it harder to feel “clean” of the world’s unpleasantness, but as stated above, if anything this is to the benefit of China’s citizens who would like a free internet.

    Comment by Joe — January 29, 2006 @ 6:02 pm

  13. Politically, Boing Boing leans decidedly left, it’s a much more popular blog than Kos or any of the other ones, and the editors (Xeni Jardin especially) have been very active in bringing up Chinese censorship on the Internet, not only with Google, but Yahoo, too:

    http://www.boingboing.net/2006/01/24/okay_do_be_evil_goog.html
    http://www.boingboing.net/2006/01/05/microsoft_confirms_c.html
    http://www.boingboing.net/2005/10/11/xenis_lat_oped_war_b.html

    Comment by James — January 29, 2006 @ 6:17 pm

  14. Excuse me, but when did the left start believing that trading with oppressive regimes is a method of spreading Democracy? Does this retroactively include South Africa and Nazi Germany, or does this only apply to commmunist countries?

    Comment by Wilbur — January 29, 2006 @ 7:13 pm

  15. #9, I’m not losing sleep because the US government wants to find porn purveyors. And MSN and Yahoo! complied, meaning Google has some explaining to do, and as far as I can tell hasn’t even tried.

    #11, your point is exactly my point. The big 3 of the left blogs don’t seem to care enough to even get involved in the discussion. It’s like the issue doesn’t exist.

    Rebecca MacKinnon and Reporters with Borders ARE involved, VERY involved, and they certainly aren’t part of the VWRC.

    #11 Addendum, you are also right that silence on the left gives Google intellectual cover that it doesn’t deserve, and the ability to convince themselves that a large plurality of the US, if not a majority, is either OK with what they’re doing or doesn’t think it’s that big a deal.

    Comment by TBlumer — January 29, 2006 @ 7:56 pm

  16. #12, I’m not convinced of the “economic miracle” yet. The Chinese public companies are state majority-owned and state-dominated. And I believe our heavy level of imports from them and the reserves they have built up is what is really carrying them.

    The Chinese government will not allow to happen what by most accounts had to happen in the US to get our prosperity to be truly broad-based — the ability of workers to form unions and take job actions for better pay, benefits, working conditions, and safety. Google is IMO helping China keep that day from arriving.

    I’m not a big fan of the latter-stage labor unions that exist in our country today, but they were needed in the early stages of the Industrial Age.

    Comment by TBlumer — January 29, 2006 @ 8:03 pm

  17. #13, Give Boing Boing credit where it’s due. I’ve checked them out before, and maybe should have again before finishing the post.

    I went to the three posts, and I recall seeing two of them before. Xeni Jardin has done a great job of calling attention to things, and deserves to be commended for it. The site is definitely on the left side of the aisle.

    That said, BB not a political site per se with comments and diaries and the like. And my point that the active leftists who populate and participate at the “Big Three” sites seem almost totally and perhaps willfully oblivious to the issue.

    Comment by TBlumer — January 29, 2006 @ 8:11 pm

  18. #14, Point well taken. They sure weren’t impressed with similar arguments re South Africa, etc.

    Comment by TBlumer — January 29, 2006 @ 8:14 pm

  19. #13 Addendum: I just did an Alexa comparison of BoingBoing and Dkos and, with some exceptions, the two were basically dead even through most of the past two years until early December, when BB shot ahead and has stayed ahead.

    I didn’t know that. What happened at BB to get it going?

    Comment by TBlumer — January 29, 2006 @ 8:34 pm

  20. Hard to know, but my guess is because in December Boing Boing promoted news of a censored South Park episode and seems to be the first blog to really push the “Chronic of Narnia” rap from SNL that quickly became a Net phenomenon:

    http://boingboing.net/2005_12_01_archive.html

    Boingboing, it should be said, is way more popular and influential in the tech world that Daily Kos or any of the explicitly lefty blogs, especially because co-editor Cory Doctorow is a longtime affiliate of EFF, Creative Commons, and other initiatives of stellar geek standing. You’d better believe most of Google’s staff has BB bookmarked.

    Or more likely, used to until last week.

    Comment by James — January 30, 2006 @ 1:51 am

  21. Oh, and for what it’s worth: I see a very large distinction between Google’s actions in China and, say, companies dealing with South Africa during apartheid. In the case of the latter, investment had a direct effect on perpetuating apartheid; the oppressed became moreso.

    In Google’s case, the oppressed become less so.

    Check Instapundit; he has a post up about how lax google’s filtering is, demonstrating the point I made in post #12.

    Comment by Joe — January 30, 2006 @ 4:41 am

  22. #21, “In Google’s case, the oppressed become less so.”

    That case can be made. The original point of the post is that no one in the Big 3 left blogs is making that case, or any kind of case, or even really acknowledging that the Google-China issue exists, while their ideological fathers and mothers were making the case against S. Africa vocally.

    Why the bleep not? If they don’t care or think it’s a net positive for the reasons you indicated, say so.

    Comment by TBlumer — January 30, 2006 @ 10:26 am

  23. Thanks for writing on this and I’m glad you found my righteous outrage amidst the predominant silence on Kos. I’m a liberal/progressive blogger and a full-time activist for Tibetan independence. I wrote the diary you linked to for Tibet Will Be Free, the Students for a Free Tibet blog and cross posted it at my personal blog, as well as Team Bring It On and the aforementioned DailyKos.

    You’re right, the silence has been deafening from the left. I don’t have an answer for why it’s like this, but it’s tremendously disappointing. I’ve had to wage a number of major debates with people that I have very similar political beliefs on this issue and it hasn’t been fun. Anyway if you want to take action to tell Google’s corporate execs to end their partnership with China, click here to take part in Students for a Free Tibet’s online action. So far we’ve had over 18,500 emails sent to Google. Thakns for your support and feel free to contact me for more info or ideas.

    Comment by PhiloTBG — January 30, 2006 @ 1:46 pm

  24. Censorship and Conservatives

    It’s as if Google did nothing wrong (Note: see note below), over at the left’o’center part of the blogosphere. No censoring, no cries for the defaming of 1st Amendment rights, no calls for Congress to intervene. Totally unsurprising….

    Trackback by MacStansbury.org — January 30, 2006 @ 3:26 pm

  25. #23, PhiloTBG, I did the e-mail at the action form. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    I have some theoretical answers, but I’m hoping someone springs forward and says something credible in defense of the silence.

    The comments at your Kos post are pretty reasoned and considered, and at least they’re willing to engage. I don’t know if 12 is considered a lot of comments or not for a Kos Diary post.

    The Tibet situation is horrible and is not getting the attention it deserves. Is Richard Gere still active in this cause?

    Comment by TBlumer — January 30, 2006 @ 3:44 pm

  26. 12 commements is a pittance at Kos. Decent discourse is around 30-50 and stuff only gets site-wide attention at around 100+ comments. The more telling (and frustrating) thing for me is the lack of Recommendations for my Diary on Google — that being the system by which diaries are promotoed to a “Recommend Diaries” list and thereby able to receive hundreds of comments.

    I think left-leaning blogs are silent on this for a couple reasons. First, Google is historically “one of our guys” and they earned a ton of respect by not turning over user search records to the Bush administration last week. I think Google’s acted hypocritically by, IMHO, doing the right thing for Americans and then turning around and doing the exact opposite in China.

    Second, I think the fact that right wing blogs like Malkin, Glenn Reynolds, Atlas Shrugged, and Dean Esmay picked up on this so quickly precluded some people from jumping aboard. I’ve been accused of being a right wing troll or closet conservative on sites that I’ve been a regular contributor for my trumpeting of this issue. The simple fact is I’m about as anti-Bush a blogger as you’ll find, so this is particularly frustrating to hear from people I consider allies.

    Third, and I think this is something that extends to all corners of the blogosphere, I don’t think bloggers are precluded from working across party lines. We’re all partisans, even if we claim our own brand of objectivity. Human rights (and foreign policy) should be issues that transcend domestic politics — but time and again, they don’t. I haven’t wasted my time pointing out that many of the right wing bloggers who’ve picked up the Google issue have found justification after justification for Bush’s NSA surveillance program. I’m not going to start that debate here because for me it’s irrelevant — I think it’s good that conservative blogs are protesting Google, even if I disagree with the remaining 98% on right wing blogs. There seems to be a natural aversion for bloggers from different ends of the political spectrum to work together — I can’t think of any other logical justification for the relative silence on the left.

    Oh, and yes Richard Gere is still somewhat involved in the Tibet movement. He supports a number of Tibetan Support Groups, though he’s not as visible as he was eight or ten years ago.

    Comment by PhiloTBG — January 30, 2006 @ 9:39 pm

  27. #26, I suspected that was a low comment level.

    I do believe there is a tendency on both sides to say “if they like it, I shouldn’t” or “if they’re against it, I’m for it” and not to do anything that might be seen as helping the other guy, even temporarily. It’s BS.

    The closest I’ve seen to a consensus has been everyone’s opposition to the Federal Election Commission’s attempt to regulate blogs. The second-closest was during the bankruptcy “reform” debate last year, when some of us from the right were in agreement with much larger numbers on the left that the bill was a bad idea.

    I would think the Google thing really isn’t about left-right, it’s about whether you see free speech and expression as a transcendent value. There are some on the right who are saying “hey, it’s just business,” but there’s barely an opinion at all on the left.

    My post on the Mao book today theorized that there’s a significant portion of the left that hasn’t let go of Mao. If you see what Nick Kristof of the NYT said when “Mao: The Unknown Story” came out, you’d see at least one example of what I’m talking about:

    Jan. 30 — NYT Columnist: Bush Reads “Mao: The Unknown Story,” Confirming That It’s a “Conservative” Book
    http://www.bizzyblog.com/?p=1359
    Oct. 22 — Nicholas Kristof and Mao: He Just, Can’t, Let, Go
    http://www.bizzyblog.com/?p=711

    I wish you all the luck in the world on what must be an enormous task.

    Comment by TBlumer — January 30, 2006 @ 10:01 pm

  28. Yeah I think there’s a certain level of fetishization of China, particularly communist China, by some of the less educated and informed people on the left. More than anything I think that speaks to the fact that there remain massive cultural and historical blanks in the West’s common knowledge of China. How many Americans can make the distinction between Chiang Kai Shek and Mao, let alone Deng Xiao Ping, Jiang Zemin, Li Peng, and Hu Jintao? Nuts to Kristof, he’s a coot – he’ll probably support a US invasion of Iran in order to bring rights to gays in Iran. Sure plenty of people on the left were falling in love with the Little Red Book in the late 60s and early 70s, but how many of them actually went to China and put themselves in the middle of a struggle session? Not many. It’s easy for people of any philosophy, not just the left, to idealize things they have no real knowledge of. China happens to be one of the biggest black marks on the credibility of people like Kristof and Tom Friedman. All it takes is education, though, which is why a campaign like this is great — we’re exposing tens of thousands of people to the truth that the PRC is a repressive, totalitarian state that doesn’t respect human rights and dignity.

    Comment by PhiloTBG — January 30, 2006 @ 10:59 pm

  29. [...]

    Censorship and Conservatives
    By Stansbury

    It’s as if Google did nothing wrong (Note: see note below), over at the left’o’center part of the blogosphere. No cen [...]

    Pingback by MacStansbury.org » Blog Archive » Censorship and Conservatives — April 24, 2006 @ 9:20 pm

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