Even as China becomes the world’s second largest PC and Internet market, there are some fears that the Chinese government may use a recent tragedy (a fire in a Beijing cybercafe which killed more than 20 people) to curb the Net freedom.
Writes Henry Jenkins in Technology Review: “Urban youths become early adopters of new media, carving out a social space that serves their own subcultural needs, which immediately becomes the subject of adult concern. A single tragedy sparks a full-scale moral panic, which governments then leverage to their own advantage. From a distance, it’s clear that the Chinese government is using the cyber cafe fire to limit Internet access.”
He adds: “the incident reveals points of tension in the way that China is dealing with the combined forces of modernization, westernization, and commercialization. In such a charged context, the Chinese government has become increasingly reactive. Unable to respond to all trouble spots, they shift attention abruptly, literally and metaphorically putting out fires where they must and turning a blind eye when they can. The government was certainly using the fires as a pretext to reign in the emerging cyberculture, but they were also reassuring the public that they were ready to confront and master their own future shock. As in most moral panics, they acted because they were expected to do something, even if it were wrong. And when governments reach that state, they usually choose the wrong actions.”