As Google threatens to pull completely out of China, following allegations that the hack attacks against Google, code named “Operation Aurora” and first disclosed by Google last month, originated at two Chinese universities with strong governmental ties, the Chinese government is trying their own brand of shaping the Internet – by encouraging its citizens to send “red text messages”, also being referred to as “red snippets” and even “red jokes” (although they are not jokes).
The Chinese term actually translates as “Red Duan” – ‘duan’ relating to measurement, such as a piece or stretch of time – in other words, a red era. According to authorities in China, the red text message – or red snippet – is intended to facilitate “the spirit of Chinese culture for an Internet age” and to combat the invasion of American culture. In the meantime, Google contemplates pulling out of China altogether after their discoveries in the wake of the Operation Aurora hacks, unless China agrees to allowing uncensored search.
Red text messages, or red snippets, are intended to counter-act the sending of so-called yellow snippets (pornography and dirty jokes) and grey snippets (sarcastic jokes or satire) – for which the Chinese government blames, in part, the U.S. and Western culture.
Explains a China Mobile executive, “‘Red snippets’ are progressive, thoughtful, and informative text messages, concise in form and healthy in content, and whose message is inspiring.”
Added Huang Yuesheng, of the Jiangmen party committee, “Sent in large numbers, ‘red snippets’ will become public opinion that will have positive effects on the culture and thinking of mainstream society and will gradually redress the unhealthy information contained in dirty jokes and mocking attacks.”
There is even an incentive to get your red snippet sent in “large numbers”. In fact, red snippet authors can win cash prizes for authoring a red snippet that gets forwarded in large numbers. If you upload a red snippet, and it starts getting forwarded around by SMS, you can receive 50% of the download charges that it garners for China Mobile.
The red snippet “China’s rise and the people’s prosperity: we work hand in hand toward that glorious day,” for example, was forwarded around more than 150,000 times during its first year, and, according to sources, hundreds of red snippet authors have already earned download ‘income’ from their red snippets, most earning the equivalent of about $75.00 USD, but some earning as much as the equivalent of almost $1500.00 USD.
While this campaign of positive SMS messages and Internet postings is in part aimed at creating a positive image of China among her people, the reality is that it is aimed at overpowering Western influences in text and Internet usage.
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In fact, a stated goal of the red snippet campaign is “so that our young people do not unwittingly fall into a trap set by an invading American culture,” explains Cheng Lu, a high ranking official with the 9th Executive Committee of the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce. “Two-thirds of the data traffic on the global Internet is American. We have a pitiful 0.01. The Internet is held in the hands of the Americans. For a lot of information that goes on the Internet, Americans look it over first before it goes on to its destination” said Lu.
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Which brings us back to Google – certainly a major carrier of that invading American culture (not to mention the data traffic). Previously Google, in order to do business in China, had submitted to the censoring of their “google.cn” service, as required by the Chinese government.
But Google’s investigation into the recent cyber attacks on Google (as well as dozens of other major corporations) revealed that the attacks were in part a concerted effort of which, says Google, “a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.”
On the Google blog, in fact, they reveal that Google “discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties.”
Google was also able to determine that although the attacks came from a server in Taiwan, they actually originated on the Chinese mainland. In fact, fingers are now pointing at two Chinese educational institutions with ties to the Chinese military – Shanghai Jiaotong University, and Lanxiang Vocational School – as hosting the computers that were the sources of the attacks.
These discoveries, say Google, have caused them to re-think their policy with regards to doing business in China. Ultimately, says Google, it lead to the decision that “…we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.”
So, while China is trying to spread the ‘good’ word through state-encouraged (if not sponsored – the bounty for forwarded messages is paid by the cell carrier) red snippets, they are about to find that the push-back to be able to spread all words, freely, is about to get a lot stronger.
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