Flickr, Freedom, and the Fastest-Growing Economy in the World

Dennis Faas's picture

Take a moment and thank heavens you live in a free, democratic country.

In Canada and the United States, there are (almost) no restrictions on snapping photos and immediately posting them online for anyone to see. While some exceptions may apply, even videos of an intoxicated President Bush have made their way to YouTube without FBI or CIA interference. Unfortunately, this kind of freedom eludes the world's fastest-growing economy.

Everyone remembers Tiananmen Square. The image of one, solitary man blocking a series of tanks from passing is unforgettable. For nearly two decades this scene symbolized modern revolution and the power of democratic will.

But, not for the Chinese.

In China today, most adults too young in 1989 to grasp the reality of the Tiananmen Square scene have no idea it even took place. The government has effectively white-washed the entire event, from soldiers firing upon unarmed citizens to the "tank man" (as he is so often called).

What they don't know, won't hurt them

The reason for this is quite simple: censorship. Censorship added a much-needed buffer between North Americans and the realities of war in Europe in 1914 and 1939, and is still being used, in earnest, by China's communist regime.

Oh, how the game has changed since Patton and the Desert Fox, however. China's censorship faces the most daunting medium ever encountered by a government of this kind: the Internet.

Luckily for the communists in Beijing, help has been easy to find. Google, Yahoo, and even Microsoft have adjusted their systems to allow for a censorship ban on images and forums. Yahoo, in fact, is now facing a firestorm of criticism for turning at least one Chinese journalist over to authorities there. The crime? Merely discussing the Tiananmen Square events. (Source:

Although Google, Yahoo, and the web's other heavy-hitters have played along with China's government, lesser-known photo gallery Flickr refuses. Unlike Google, it hasn't voluntarily ripped images of Tiananmen Square from Chinese search results and has little interest in blacking out honest history.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem Flickr can do much. Although the site is certain many of its images are being blocked by Chinese officials, co-founder Stewart Butterfield smugly remarks, "There isn't an '800' number you can call to register a complaint." (Source:

Flickr's position on the matter could bring more light to an already hot topic. As China continues to grow (in both population and economic power), can it sustain a centuries-old censorship apparatus? All it took was television to betray the American government's Vietnam War propaganda system. How long can the Chinese suppress the image-laden, video-toting world-wide web?

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