Friday, September 15, 2006

Watershed event: Amateur riot video circulates in China

There's been a watershed media event in China. Amateur video of a riot that took place in Eastern China are circulating all over China and abroad, and the censors can't stop them. From Danwei:
Short videos of clashes between protesters and armed police in Rui'an are circulating online. The protests stem from student dissatisfaction over the official response to an alleged suicide of their teacher, Dai Haiqing [戴海静], but have expanded into a large, occasionally destructive popular demonstration in front of Rui'an government buildings ... A popular video hosted on the Tudou server was pulled for content-related reasons, but other videos are popping up elsewhere - here are some hosted on the photobucket site; Youtube also has one. There is also a bbs linked off of the memorial site for Dai Haiqing on the online obituary website Netor.
More information about this incident is carried on Global Voices Online. The ESWN blog (東南西北) also has Chinese and English context, and pictures.

Scenes like this are just the beginning. Expect a lot more shaky video involving official abuse or incompetence in the next few years. As I've said before, the proliferation of cheap, portable video cameras and phones with built-in cameras will cause major problems for the authorities in China, as more and more of these events -- and police abuse -- are captured and shared, and eventually uploaded to the Internet. Unless the police in China use their shiny Cisco hardware to shut down transfer of pictures and video over telecommunications networks and the Internet, there's no effective way to stop one-to-one and one-to-many transmission of clips.

As everyone in the U.S. has learned in the past 15 years or so, amateur video of riots and police abuse distributed to a wide audiece can lead to unrest rippling across the country. In China, uncensored riot clips or video of official abuse also undermine authority. Domestic TV won't show the video, but people will share them with friends or post them online, where there is no effective law enforcement. Such videos let let ordinary Chinese people -- who don't have a free press, or officials who are consistently accountable for their actions, or an independent judiciary -- see imagery of people just like them at the receiving end of police brutality. Video may be accompanied by exaggerated or incorrect context as well, potentially hurting the government's image even more.

Conclusion: The Chinese authorities are losing control of the message. Expect major political and societal changes as a result in the next five-ten years.

Earlier commentary:

Another reason China should fear the 'Net: A million people with camera phones

New Chinese Internet restrictions -- Yeah, right

Shanghai, sex, and shades of history

Freezing Point tests China's official stance on history and press freedom

Five reasons why Chinese authorities won't be able to regulate the 'Net

Futile Chinese information controls, con't

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