On January 20th, Alec Ross, Rebecca MacKinnon, Evgeny Morozov, and Tim Wu discussed the ethical challenges western media companies face in accessing the vast Chinese market, with special attention to Google’s recent threat to pull out of China in response to Beijing’s censorship. The joint Slate and New America Foundation event was moderated by James Fallows, Board Member at the New America Foundation and National Correspondent at The Atlantic Monthly.
Alec Ross, Senior Advisor for Innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, offered a few words of context to Clinton’s upcoming remarks on the administration’s plans regarding their internet freedom policies, as well as how can technology be used as an instrument of foreign policy. Economic issues, human rights, and security all come together, Ross emphasized, in issues of internet freedom. Rebecca MacKinnon, Fellow at Open Society Institute and Co-Founder of Global Voices Online, spoke about two variations of Chinese censorship: “Filtering,” when an internet user in China is blocked from accessing a foreign website; and the self-censorship of Chinese websites held liable by the government to remove “offensive” content from the internet entirely. Evgeny Morozov, Yahoo! Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University, made the point that the Chinese government has not been a reliable business partner to Google, who seemed to deliberately frame its decision in national security terms by citing cyber attacks originating in China. Morozov also talked about denial of service attacks as distinct from network intrusions. Tim Wu, Schwartz Fellow at the New America Foundation and Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, spoke about how tech companies often have very limited self- awareness of their ethical responsibilities as media companies. Wu said that within Google, to their credit, there was always an internal debate on google.cn. Also, Wu pointed out, censorship or filtering can also be seen as trade barriers with profound implications in the international trade system.