This weekend, the Chinese government blocked access within the country to YouTube and a wide variety of websites and news reports related to Tibet, after violence broke out during Tibetan protests against Chinese rule. Although China promised to be more open as part of its campaign to host the Olympic Games, the country’s recent actions cast doubt on its ability to move away from its reputation as one of the top blockers of Internet content in the world. As with Burma’s Internet crackdown in October, the recent act of censorship seems largely aimed at preventing access to videos and content posted by people on the scene. Web 2.0 tools can seem at times like vehicles for the self-absorbed, but the fear that they inspire in oppressive governments is a powerful demonstration of how useful and vital they can be.
In spite of the ban, there exist some tools, such as the University of Toronto’s Psiphon, that can help circumvent Internet censorship. However, Psiphon, displaying both the blessing and the curse of social tools, requires users to gain the tools needed to access censored sites through their social connections.