Amid the recent protests and violent crackdown in Tibet, the Chinese government is closing off all media access to the region and censoring reports about Tibet inside China. That includes not just CNN, but YouTube and Google News. Both Google sites have been blocked from the Internet in China. News reports about the protests and images that appear to come from inside Tibet are available on YouTube (see the slide show embedded below—warning it shows graphic images of bodies in the streets—and a CNN report). To prevent its citizens from seeing these videos or reading about them, the Chinese government has taken down all of YouTube and Google News inside China.
This isn’t the first time YouTube has been censored. Last month, Pakistan ended up taking down YouTube worldwide for a couple hours because of some supposedly “blasphemous” videos on the site. And in September, Myanmar blocked the entire Internet during a period of political unrest.
The question is: What will Google do to restore access to YouTube and Google News inside China? China is a big market that Google needs to be a player in. Will it voluntarily strip out all videos or news items about Tibet? Or will the Chinese government just figure out how to strip them out itself? There is a precedent here: in China you cannot find a lot of information about the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising on the Web, including the famous image of the lone man standing in front of the line of tanks. Most young Chinese have never seen that image.
I am speculating here—there is no indication that Google has been asked to remove information about Tibet or that it would do so. But if it were to do so, then it would become complicit in China’s censorship. That might have to be the price it has to pay to give the Chinese access to all the other information on YouTube and Google News. The alternative might be a permanent ban.
Which option is the lesser evil for a company that has pledged itself to do none whatsoever?