After I finished turning my Blocked on Weibo blog into book form last month (it’ll be published next August by The New Press; note: cover needs to be changed and subtitle needs updating), I decided I needed a break and finally watched the Joss Whedon series Firefly for the first time. Of course, as someone who grew up on Cowboy Bebop and other deep space sci-fi, the show was a dream come true, and even if the series isn’t as mind-blowing as it is plain ol’ entertaining, I still blew through it in a couple weeks.
Anyway, so after watching it, I figured no doubt tons of people have already documented and translated all the hilarious usages of Chinese in the show, and as I expected, there are many, most notably Kevin Sullivan’s fantastic Firefly-Serenity Chinese Pinyinary. But the format seemed a bit stale, so I figured it might be nice to update it for Web 2.0 and add video clips, analysis, “ratings” of the actors saying the words, and audio clips so you can learn to pronounce stuff properly the next time you hit ComicCon in your Hoban Washburne Hawaiian shirt. So I started up with Judy He a new Tumblr blog called Firefly Chinese that does all this, tracking the usage of Chinese in the show and Malcolm Reynold’s heroic quest to butcher the Chinese language–one profanity at a time. So hope folks enjoy it.
As for other stuff, I’ve been doing a lot of fun work for China Digital Times, some of which has been translated into Chinese for their site. I’ve also been working on a couple projects with a professor and advisor here at Pitt, political scientist (the title does not do justice to his genius and immense breadth of knowledge about China) Pierre Landry. One is tracking what is happening on social media during the 18th party congress. I started posting some results on Blocked on Weibo, but I’ll be performing more serious quantitative analysis in the months to come once I finish collecting the data. Another project is a paper on comparing official Chinese government statistics versus remote sensing data from the Barometer on China’s Development. Basically, my September was spent combing through geocodes, Chinese town names, and gaining insight into Google’s usage of Chinese mapping data (which apparently they license from a Chinese company, AutoNavi). Fun fun fun. Hopefully we’ll come up with some interesting results and I’ll present some time next semester.
As for other stuff, I’ve been posting more regularly the fun stuff I glean from my Weibo tracking on Twitter (@jasonqng) and I’ve contributed a number of other pieces to Nathan, Eric, and Jasmine’s website Waging Nonviolence. If you need a dose of hope in what citizens can still do when united, go there. I also made the fun Tumblr blog Finding Doraemon just for kicks over the summer while I was in Asia (summer workshop with Deborah Davis, Pierre Landry, and Juan Chen on Chinese survey data at CUHK; followed by wandering Angkor Wat with Hippo Wong; and then studying Mandarin at IUP-Tsinghua).
Ok, I think that brings us up to speed. Now to catch some NBA games…
Wrote up a short article for Nathan and Eric’s blog again, this time on Google and Twitter’s recent announcements that they would begin restricting content more tightly in foreign countries.
Nathan pointed me to a very astute comment by Thomas Clark Wilson on WNV’s Facebook page, which I thought was worth reprinting here:
The actual details of what they’re doing will make it easier to circumvent censorship than it is just now. Tweeters in, say, Egypt, don’t just rely on tweets within their own country to organise, but also RTs and such from foreign accounts. Before this policy; censor a tweet in Egypt and nobody can see it. After this policy; censor a tweet in Egypt and some American can still see it, quote it, and send it back into the fray.
Besides, the contention in this article that ‘they might bend to shady censorship requests even though they say they’ll play nice’ has *always* been a danger, this policy hasn’t changed that fact. Yeah it would be super swell if they took a stand an said no to any censorship, but twitter’s a business not a revolutionary tech collective. Recognise it as a tool, an use it wisely.
My response, just for posterity’s sake:
That’s a great point Thomas. Indeed, this isn’t some sort of smoking gun revelation, merely an acknowledgment and reminder from Twitter that they are a business and not some sort of utopia maker.
As for circumvention methods, other ways potentially include setting your home country to say the U.S. so you don’t have restrictions. But we have to assume that Twitter and any governments that would want to utilize Twitter’s restrictions are obviously aware of these limitations that would make the whole thing pointless and would implement things like IP detection. Also, floods of foreign retweets might make it too hard to stomp out every one, but for smaller, budding movements these tools do allow governments to snuff out incohate organizing. And even if a few foreign retweets get out, location shouldn’t matter. They would in all likelihood also be blocked because they would bear the same illegal content as the original local one. This would just be the first step of potential cat and mouse games, with governments likely requesting that Twitter move faster to remove such posts and with Twitter employing more active monitoring–once something has been blocked in a country and it knows the government wants future instances of such content blocked, it could employ some kind of flagging system to warn employees that this is another potentially illegal post and give them a chance to take instant action when requested.
But if none of this comes to be, then Twitter is the good guy, and we have no major reason to expect them to bend over backwards to regimes and governments whose values are so antithetical to those of the Internet’s. But one has to look at the trajectory here–this is a step in the other direction from an open Internet. And wouldn’t it be foolish for Twitter to take such a PR hit without following through on actually providing a credible oand functional option to regulate content in countries? Why make yourself look so bad and buddy up to censorship regimes when you know you’re only going to half heartedly enforce these sorts of things.
But your points are well taken. In the short-term Twitter should still be safe and useful, but this announcement definitely makes the future of Twitter as a revolutionary tool cloudier.
That’s all I got for now. Still working mightily on Blockedonweibo (now reachable via www.blockedonweibo.com) which I hope to start sharing more publicly in the next week or two (once I finish writing up a short summary for Nathan and Eric at WNV), so things will probably once again go quiet here for a bit.
Over break I wrote up a short article about Wukan and Occupy Wall Street for Nathan and Eric’s fantastic blog, Waging Nonviolence. It mostly focuses on how Wukan likely isn’t a harbinger for revolution in China–a fact which doesn’t make it any less inspiring. I then examine some of the tactics they used to prove to the Chinese government of their “non-revolutionary” intentions and the successful outcome which came about because of this decision to keep the protest local.
Much credit to the great reporting and commentary by Malcolm Moore of the Telegraph UK, Charles Custer of China Geeks, and Ian Johnson of NYRB, which greatly sharpened my thinking on the topic.
Waging Nonviolence is an incredibly thoughtful blog about nonviolent movements around the world. A few short articles of mine were posted there yesterday, one about Han Han and internet protests in China, a draft of which I’d posted here previously, and another about parallels between the Zuccotti Park cleanup and Tiananmen. If I can find time in the coming months, hopefully I’ll be able to contribute a few more going forward. Thanks to Nathan for the encouragement to get this started.