Wikipedia Takes Moral High Ground Over China
Businesses and organizations face the same moral dilemma that diplomats and governments face with regard to China, and it is a question without easy answers. The issue being that the Chinese government has questionable policies when it comes to censorship and freedom of information, yet China is a behemoth, both politically and financially, and provides an incredibly huge and lucrative market which is difficult to ignore if you want to have global significance.
For some businesses and organizations, this isn’t a dilemma that lasts very long. They say we don’t care about their policies, and then proceed to snap up the attention of the Chinese market. But Wikipedia has taken a stand. According to The Wall Street Journal, co-founder Jimmy Wales has said that they would rather have no presence in China at all than to provide a service under any kind of censorship restrictions.
At the annual conference for the Wikimedia Foundation, which includes Wikipedia, Mr. Wales said, “We are quite uncompromising in our position on access to knowledge as a fundamental right, and of course the Chinese government is fairly firm on its own views.”
Mr. Wales believes that the freedom and spread of knowledge is something that is not within the remit of governments to restrict, and that censorship is the antithesis of everything Wikipedia stands for.
This isn’t the first time Wikipedia has encountered such problems with regard to China. It has been subject to blocking on several occasions, originally just for a few days in June 2004 and later in September 2004. But between 2005 and 2007 it suffered severe or total restrictions. It has always taken the stand that it takes now, and has criticized Google for not taking a similar position.
Cynics might suggest that the fact that the Wikimedia Foundation is a non-profit charitable organization might make their decision easier than companies that have accounts and shareholders to worry about, but no doubt Wikipedia want to be as widely used as possible even if it doesn’t make them rich.
The latest round of problems with the Chinese government began in June as Beijing got twitchy about the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, and also followed a law change last December which added new controls to internet and media usage, including collecting information on internet users’ real identities.
People in China can still currently access Wikipedia, but only the unencrypted version which it is possible to regulate and filter; so any information which Beijing deems sensitive can be restricted. This, of course, is against Wikipedia’s total freedom stance. They have faced calls to default to their encrypted site, but Jimmy Wales says that is not technically possible for them at the moment. It would also create a stark choice for China – either accept Wikipedia fully and openly as it is or shut it down completely. Since Mr. Wales has said that Wikipedia is prepared to face a complete blackout, and since China has previously taken that drastic step when it has felt it necessary, the future for Wikipedia in China is uncertain.
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