Isaac Mao, China, 40 million blogs and counting

I was very interested to hear from Chinese blogger and social media juggernaut Isaac Mao (@isaac) earlier today. Mao is in NZ for a few days thanks to support from the Asia NZ Foundation. He’s doing a flying tour of journalism schools, press interviews and meet and greets.

It was great to be able to host him in Hamilton for one of those days (and to show him the gloriousness of the beach at Raglan and fresh snapper eaten on the wharf while a seal flolloped about in the harbour below – first seal I’ve seen there in a year).

Mao talked to #Wintec media students about the growth of blogging in China, the challenges bloggers face from the establishment, the ways bloggers circumvent state intervention, and the importance of what he terms ‘sharism’ – which I think might be summarised as the collective strength created by a mass of individuals being willing to publish, share and link to one another online.

Bloggers in China, particularly those whose opinions can be seen as ‘defaming China’ by authorities, face a constant threat of their blogs being shut down at a moment’s notice, says Mao, and an occasional threat of being arrested or suddenly finding themselves the subject of an uncomfortable¬† tax inquiry or some other official squeeze designed to deter.

Bloggers have therefore developed a few tricks for staying online. One is to have multiple blogs, so the minute one is closed down the blogger resumes transmission on another blog. Another is to automatically pump blog posts out to Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, YouTube and other social networks so that it becomes near impossible to catch or ‘contain’ any one blogger’s output.

Another option is to blog via an anonymity service such as Tor, which routes posts through a peer to peer network and ultimately renders the IP address of the blogger untraceable. “Tor protects you by bouncing your communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world: it prevents somebody watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit, and it prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location.”

TOR

Mao is a board member on Tor, works with the Social Brain Foundation, works with Global Voices Online, and is co-chair on the Chinese Blogger Conference. He has a computer science degree, once worked for Intel, left to form a software company, later sold it,¬† was part of a venture capital company in China, now focuses on social media and research and has a fellowship with Harvard’s Berkman Centre.

I had a few technology fails today, but managed to catch most of Isaac’s talk on my super simple Flip video camera. But it appears I have to do a bit of editing/converting magic which will have to wait a day or two.

So for now here’s a couple of bullet points from Mao’s talk:

  • Mao wrote the first blog post in China in 2002.
  • By the end of 2002 there were¬† 1,000 bloggers in China.
  • By 2003 there were 100,000.
  • By 2004 there were 500,000
  • Today, there are 40 million bloggers in China and around 200 million blogs, according to Mao. Some blogs survive only a few days before being shut down by authorities.
  • More than 80% of people in China don’t know that the internet is censored in their country.
  • When riots broke out in Xinjiang province this year, the authorities shut down internet access for the whole region. No one could get online.
  • Authorities could not completely shut down the internet in cities like Beijing and Shangahi for fear commerce would be affected and the outcry large.

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