MSN serves the Great Red Firewall

Rebecca MacKinnon has written an in-depth and well researched post on how MSN Spaces has offered up their own sacrifice of freedom of speech at the altar of the almighty dollar by censoring a controversial Chinese blogger to appease the PRC machine. In this piece, Rebecca tests out MSN‘s censorship algorithm herself by starting up Spaces blogs to see if obviously controversial words would get blocked, which indeed they did. Some posts containing certain words and phrases are automatically blocked, while others seem to get screened later on by a possibly human process. There is also some discussion at EastSouthWestNorth about how MSN may even be merely a pawn in this game; that a competitor used China’s security machine to give MSN a black eye in the market.

What intrigues me about the whole fiasco is not so much MSN‘s willingness to be a tool for the PRC, but more how that the situation shows how alive and well the idea that state persecution can be used as a weapon for demagoguery, vengeance, and for crushing one’s opposition. Rebecca finishes with this, which I found particularly poignant:

Can we say, snakepit? Its actually not uncommon in China for people in one company to actively tattle on their rivals and get them into political trouble in order to gain a competitive business advantage. I saw it happen several times in the media and entertainment worlds when I was living and working in Beijing. This is one reason the communist party will stick around longer than many outsiders think. Businesses get greedy and try to manipulate the authoritarian system to their advantage, rather than working together to make the whole thing more fair, accountable, and transparent. Microsoft clearly isnt taking the high road either.