Everyone knows that China's not fond of the Tibetan protestors. As a result, sad as it is to say, the world's press just doesn't pay much attention when China does something to smack the Tibetans down. So long as China's actions aren't too violent or otherwise noteworthy, the press won't invest more than a sentence or two on the topic. But when China, in order to censor a video of Tibetan protestors being beaten, blocks the whole of YouTube, the press is damn well going to sit up and take notice.
As is naturally the case after ham-handed censorship of this type, everyone immediately went about trying to find out what China was so worried about. The Shanghaiist blog noted the outage started Tuesday, and immediately began speculating about which particular set of Chinese dirty laundry was to blame. Was it Tibet? Was it the recent confrontation between the USNS Impeccable and some Chinese fishing boats, of which the US Navy recently posted videos?
As the Western media all soon reported, it was all about Tibet. Apparently, the Tibetan government-in-exile released video over the weekend of Tibetan protestors being beaten by Chinese police. That video was posted on YouTube, and China blocked the site soon after. Though China has not acknowledged that the video was the cause of its decision to block YouTube, Xinhua, one of China's state press agencies, did release a story on Tuesday that called the video "a lie." The New York Times reports that when asked about the issue, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said, “Many people have a false impression that the Chinese government fears the Internet. In fact, it is just the opposite.” Oh yes, clearly.
So in the end, as Time blogger Austin Ramzy points out, the Chinese government's attempt to quell circulation of the video backfired royally:
Last weekend individual YouTube pages carrying the Tibet video were blocked here, which wasn't a much of a story. Now the entire site is blocked, and the censorship and the Tibet video itself have all become subjects of international interest. Beijing says the video is faked and that it's not afraid of the Internet. But blocking YouTube makes the very opposite statement. If Beijing has proof the video is fake, then detailing that would be far more devastating to the overseas Tibetans' assertions than blocking YouTube. But for now it's relying on equally fuzzy claims, further ensuring this story won't go away.
And as if criticism over its human rights record wasn't enough, China is now on the receiving end of criticism over its censorship of YouTube to boot. ZDNet's Richard Koman notes that the Center for Democracy and Technology (in a BBC story), The Committee to Protect Journalists, and the Global Network Initiative all slammed the move. It only goes to show that censorship isn't just bad for the censored; it's bad for the censors, too.