Chinese Internet restrictions affect social media, search engines

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While free Internet is a widely available commodity for those living in the U.S., others, such as Chinese citizens, are struggling to use popular applications used for communication and accessing information. With restrictions to certain searches and blockings of large amount of applications and data, China is known to have one of the most restrictive Internet policies in the world.

Chinese citizens have reported struggling to access their usual websites for communication, such as Gmail, as reported by The New York Times. The Chinese government announced it has taken extra measures recently to restrict browsing the web and intends to continue doing so.

Even social networks are regulated, so worldwide dominant companies like Facebook and Twitter are not the most widely used social media sites in China. Because these American-based social networks do not meet Chinese government standards, alternatives such as Renren, an alternative to Facebook, and Weibo, a Twitter knockoff, have a larger base in China.

“The social media in China is more familiar to Chinese people,” junior accounting major Violin Fan said,  “The companies are more focused on Chinese people.”

Violin Fan is the president of the International Student Association

Fan describes Renren and Weibo as great alternatives to Facebook and Twitter, respectively, noting no difference in features besides Facebook’s messenger app that allows group messaging. To make up for that, WeChat is popularly used for group messaging.

Although Facebook and Twitter, with some modifications, have become available in China currently, they are not as popular as the Chinese native applications.

“Before Twitter got into China, we already had a kind of Twitter to communicate with each other,” Fan said of Weibo.

According to CNBC, Facebook has been campaigning its way into China by laying new foundations to meet Chinese government regulations, although loosening their stance is not within China’s priorities.

But the Internet restrictions go beyond just means of communication. Researchers, students, and instructors have reported difficulty accessing information they need, according to The New York Times.

Commerce is also affected by Internet restrictions.

“In order to attract and promote world-class commercial enterprises,” said James Zimmerman, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, to NYT, “the government needs to encourage the use of the Internet as a crucial medium for the sharing of information and ideas to promote economic growth and development.”

For Chinese who have left their homeland, finding jobs in China in plans to return home can also be complicated if they use the Internet to find them, so the trouble of accessing data flows not only from inside out, but also from outside in.

“When I was [in China],” Fan said, “I used Google before, and sometimes I just couldn’t get the thing I was looking for.”

Trying to search on topics related to China, she encounters the same problems using Google in Boston.

“Here, I really use Google,” Fan said, “but when I try to search for Chinese articles, it’s not enough. I was trying to find information for a research paper. I was trying to search for particular book name.”

Google search did not provide the results she needed, so she resorted to the Chinese alternative of Google, Baidu.

“There must be a different database,” Fan said.

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