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China Nukes Access to YouTube, Institutes Complete Blackout

On Monday the folks running Google’s China operations began to notice a dramatic drop in YouTube traffic. By Tuesday afternoon YouTube had turned into a digital ghost town; traffic dropped to nearly zero, the company told the New York Times. Chinese officials, big shocker, have given Google no official reason for shutting down access to the video platform, nor have they actually admitted shutting down the YouTube pipes. Instead, Chinese officials are engaged in their own fanciful brand of obfuscation. “Many people have a false impression that the Chinese government fears the Internet,” said Qin Gang, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “In fact it is just the opposite.”

Sounds like some Chinese press aide has been reading a little too much George Orwell. This incident makes me believe that the leaders of the Middle Kingdom are operating from a playbook published in some mythic tongue straight out of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, and there’s no Gandalf around to interpret. No company can possibly devise a coherent push back policy when there’s not even a set of rules to push against. While Beijing may be operating with blinders on, the rest of the world is watching this game of geopolitical charades in crystal clear, high def. The 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre is fast approaching and the Chinese aren’t taking any chances that subversive digital propaganda will trickle into their country on the bitstream.

These actions come as no surprise, or shouldn’t. There is a long history of China violating the international right of free expression. On Monday they flipped some switches, monitored some blinking LEDs on a console, and choked off YouTube’s air supply. Twenty years ago they did the same sort of thing, but did it with tanks, troops, bullets and blood.