Microsoft’s China policy in action:
When Zhao Jing moved his blog to Microsoft’s popular MSN Spaces site last summer, some users worried the Chinese government would block the entire service. The censors had blacklisted the last site where the young journalist had posted his spirited political essays, and he seemed unwilling to tone down his writing at the new address.
But Zhao, better known by the pen name Anti, told fellow bloggers not to worry. If the government objected to his blog, he predicted, Microsoft would “sell me out” and delete it rather than risk being blocked from computer screens across China.
He was right. Four and a half months after he began posting essays challenging the Communist Party’s taboo against discussing politics, Zhao published an item protesting the purge of a popular newspaper’s top editors. Officials called Microsoft to complain, and Microsoft quickly erased his blog.
I have some very mixed feelings here. One part of me is, in a very real sense, actually rather glad that Microsoft took this step. The alternative would be to allow the Chinese authorities to act directly, and possibly throw Zhao Jing in jail.
I’m sure Microsoft would echo my point that their decision to block blogs can actually save bloggers from worse fates, and that they actually provide one of the most free internet forums in China.
But, on reflection, I think we should assume that bloggers like Zhao Jing know exactly what they are doing, and what risks they face in writing anti-government blogs. Microsoft, Google, et al, should treat them as the adults they are, respect their right to free speech, and allow them to decide whether they are personally prepared to take the risk that what they say may land them in big trouble.
If Microsoft doesn’t feel willing to provide people with a forum under such circumstances, then fair enough – it should not offer MSN Spaces in China at all. Instead, it should leave the market to companies that are either Chinese, government controlled and heavily censored, or companies that are based outside China and truly prepared to provide Chinese bloggers a free forum where they know that, whatever they say, they will not be censored.
At least that way, Chinese bloggers will know where they stand.
Update: I’m curious to see how it works, so I’m adding this post to the Beltway traffic jam.