Blogging is more than just something that geeks with a lot of time on their hands do for fun. In countries like China, blogs are one of the few ways dissidents can try to exercise a little freedom of speech — something we in the West take for granted. In that sense, they are a little like the “samizdat” newsletters that were photocopied and handed around in the USSR under Stalin.
That’s why it’s so depressing to see a company like Microsoft’s MSN censoring a dissident blogger in China, as described by Rebecca MacKinnon, a research fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center who specializes in international media, and in particular Internet usage in China. She describes how the blog of a noted dissident named Zhao Jing — also known as Michael Anti — was taken down by MSN.
Robert Scoble of Microsoft says he too is upset by his company acting as a “state-run thug” in cases such as this, and that he has raised it with a senior MSN executive. Others have also said they will be raising the issue. No offence to the Scobleizer, who seems like a nice guy, but I can’t say I’m optimistic about such efforts having any real effect.
Microsoft isn’t the only one to engage in this kind of thing — Yahoo has already helped identify a dissident to the Chinese government and Google has been accused of filtering its search results in China to avoid dissident material. Everybody wants to do business in China, and no doubt they justify their government-friendly attitudes as being better than having no Internet at all, but that doesn’t make MSN’s behaviour right.