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In China, Little Sister Joins Forces With Big Brother

OK, OK, at this point, China is pretty much officially an obsession for us. But from a media perspective, is there anywhere on earth more interesting? You've got a country desperately trying to manage the flow of information to its citizens at a time when technology is making it easier and easier for that information to get through. Impossible? You'd think so. But that's not stopping the Chinese from trying.

The latest example comes to us via the New York Times, who informs us, in its clever headline, that "Little Sister Is Watching":

Part traffic cop, part informer, part discussion moderator — and all without the knowledge of her fellow students — Ms. Hu is a small part of a huge national effort to sanitize the Internet. For years China has had its Internet police, reportedly as many as 50,000 state agents who troll online, blocking Web sites, erasing commentary and arresting people for what is deemed anti-Communist Party or antisocial speech.

But Ms. Hu, one of 500 students at her university's newly bolstered, student-run Internet monitoring group, is a cog in a different kind of force, an ostensibly all-volunteer one that the Chinese government is mobilizing to help it manage the monumental task of censoring the Web.

In April that effort was named "Let the Winds of a Civilized Internet Blow," and it is part of a broader "socialist morality" campaign, known as the Eight Honors and Disgraces, begun by the country's leadership to reinforce social and political control.
Under the Civilized Internet program, service providers and other companies have been asked to purge their servers of offensive content, which ranges from pornography to anything that smacks of overt political criticism or dissent.

Chinese authorities say that more than two million supposedly "unhealthy" images have already been deleted under this campaign, and more than 600 supposedly "unhealthy" Internet forums shut down.

And how's this for a staggering sentence: "Having started its own ambitious Internet censorship efforts — a "harmful-information defense system," as the university calls it — long before the government's latest campaign, Shanghai Normal University is promoting itself within the education establishment as a pioneer."

Congrats, Shanghai Normal! After all, there is nothing that a university must defend against more strenuously than that great scourge known as information.

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