Thursday, August 21, 2008

"Hacking" the Olympics: an exercise in censorship & fraud

A very interesting article came to the fore today: the "hacker" (I use this term loosely, for all he really did was come up with some specific search queries for various search engines) Stryde went through some search engines to discover that the gold medal winning gymnast, He Kexin, is potentially underage for competing in the Olympic games. The official age requirement is 16 years, where the evidence uncovered by Stryde has shown that she was in fact only 14. You can read his initial discovery here, with a follow-up here.

Now the interesting part for me isn't so much the fraud, which is yet to be commented on by anyone official, but that there is something at work busily taking these sites and documents referring to the girl's theoretical real age down, which is most likely the Chinese government. This annoys me particularly because it's just the most recent development in a line of information-barring moves they have made over the Olympics, such as blocking journalists from various Websites after saying that journalists would have unrestricted access to the Internet, cancelling press conferences because hard questions were being asked, and general restrictions on things to be reported about (no Tibet, no protesters, etc.). This worries me because of China being such an increasingly influential nation that the world is essentially tiptoeing around, wanting to get in on the opening markets, not wanting to offend anyone by mentioning dreadful human rights records, for example. And the Chinese are getting away with pressing it on us because they know they hold the balance of power (for example, China owns about 502 billion US dollars of the US national debt, the second highest foreign owner after Japan). Does this mean that China can essentially start to force its crazy censorship and other oppressive acts, such as sentencing elderly women to "re-education through labour" because they wanted a protest permit?

As a society we give up more and more of our freedom every day, through surveillance and personal information sharing, bit by bit these are whittled away by our own governments and corporations, and yet we are generally apathetic about this sort of "lack of freedom creep", as long as it doesn't upset our daily lives (and may even welcome it if it seems to improve our lives!). Perhaps we will start to see the fastest growing economy's influence increase in our own society due to our own apathy.

I hope for one that the Olympics will open the Chinese people up to the outside world and see that there are ways they can keep their unique culture but become free from oppression through access and distribution of information, and put pressure on their government to change.

(yeah, sorry about the rant, this just annoys me!)


Andreea said...

Censorship is certainly not limited to China or to totalitarian regimes. There is plenty of censorship right here - some overt, like Seven/Prime not airing Get Up's ads urging K-Rudd to initiate talks about Tibet scheduled to run during the Olympics opening ceremony, to much more subtle censorship and manipulation, coming not just from the government but also from many commercial entities. Capitalism by nature needs to suppress certain information while promoting other kinds.

Not to mention that Australia's human rights record is hardly spotless (treatment of Aboriginal people and asylum seekers, for example). Which of course doesn't make what's happening in China ok by far, but I find that many Australians are very quick to point the finger outside our country and the 2008 Olympics seems to be the perfect opportunity for that.

Nick said...

Thanks for the comment :)

Of course Censorship isn't limited to China, or totalitarian regimes. In fact, there isn't time to cover the full extent of the practice of Censorship (as I am finding out in my thesis). I'd even say that you don't go far enough as to name Capitalism. Censorship cuts through the known universe, not only as a cultural phenomenon but as a process that defines our conception of the universe as a whole. In fact, what is generally considered the antithesis of censorship: complete freedom of information; to my reasoning is a false dichotomy. Restrictions to the dissemination of information are a valuable process that allows us to generate substantive understanding of our world. There are more and more cases in the ongoing debate concerning Freedom of information laws where governments are intentionally giving *too much* information, in order to suppress understand about important issues.

As to the human rights record of Australia, spot on again. Unfortunately, the authors represent a small and fundamentally uninteresting (well, together we are a small contingent, I'M the uninteresting part) subset of CAPPE Postgrads, much less the wisdom and breadth of the individuals in the Centre at large, and the sheer scope of the issues we deal with. It'd be awesome if we could demonstrate that on all the issues, but until we've become evil and corporate and started "CAPPE: The reality TV series," that isn't possible. Rest assured though, that we are all in agreement (well, I am) that the issues are so much bigger than the very limited and inadequate posts that make there way to this blog. Again, if we were reality TV show, it'd be a twofold boon: we'd be able to show our small but loyal readership our comprehensive understanding of the issues; and furthermore, it'd be nice to not have to write as much and just have people tune into our never-ending prattle.

Of course, then you'd see how ugly I am, and I'd never be able to convince anyone that I'm more attractive then ("Adonis") ever again.

Thanks for the comments, again. it's nice to know we get read.

Catherine said...

This is true, but at least in Australia I can write blog entries (or comments such as yours) criticising the government without fear of reprisal, "re-education", or disappearing entirely, picked up by government thugs. Being the optimist that I am, I'd like to hope that we have to a major degree our human rights back on track now, and when we fuck up we as the people are not simply silenced but allowed and encouraged to contribute.

I certainly don't want to simply point the finger, I am just hopeful that when the olympics is done, outside and internal pressure is continually applied to the government to make them realise that such oppression of its own people is unacceptable by an international power. I've always been wary of China as a power, with their extreme control over their own population; the olympics make for a good opportunity to call them on it when they attempt to try their amazing oppression tactics on an international scale while in the spotlight.

Nick also makes a good point, that there are obviously a lot more issues at stake than the ones I've picked and chosen to write about here. I certainly am annoyed by the censorship of channel 7 too (they didn't make their amends by airing the closing ceremony ad either...), but this is small scale stuff compared to the daily oppression of access to information and speaking out that occurs in China.

Also, thanks for reading! This was one of my more ranty rants, I probably should have prefaced it with a braindump disclaimer, as it certainly doesn't represent anything on the lines of the work I'm doing :)

Catherine said...

Er, to clarify, the "government" I am talking about in that previous comment in paragraph 2 is the Chinese government :)

Andreea said...

Nick: Oh dear...I can see it now. "Censorship! The Musical. Now with extra gore!"

I agree with you about the supposed lack of information/freedom of information issue. Floods of information can render information meaningless or very hard to sort into meaningful categories. The "censorship" I was talking about in my comment was of the mainstream media variety, in which something that the populace thinks should have been released, wasn't, and was in fact quite visibly suppressed - but this is a fairly clear-cut issue and certainly not representative of the full range or purpose of censorship.

I recognise that it's not within the scope of your thesis or of the centre that you belong to to talk about every kind of censorship issue there is, of course (although if you guys could get "CAPPE: The reality TV series" going I would fully support it :D). But even so, I think it's crucial to recognise the issues at home as well as those elsewhere in the world.

Also, I do know you in RL you know, so you can't convince me that you're ugly :P

Andreea said...


This is true, but at least in Australia I can write blog entries (or comments such as yours) criticising the government without fear of reprisal, "re-education", or disappearing entirely, picked up by government thugs."

Very true - as an educated, middle-class, white person (talking about myself here), having arrived here through the proper channels (of birth or bureaucracy), we can have these freedoms, however, not everyone is in the same boat (pun partially intended?). I believe that different groups have quite different visibility and power and ways to represent themselves.

I've always been wary of China as a power

I agree - I think we should be wary of all world powers, they should all be held accountable. Trust no one! :)

And yep, the Channel 7 stuff was small-scale, but I also consider other Olympics stuff that got widely reported in our media as similarly small-scale and yet got blown out of proportion a bit (the faked footprints, the two little girls) And I did mention the treatment of Aboriginal people (which continues to be unfortunate) and asylum seekers (an issue which interestingly garners extremely disparate media coverage under the Rudd govt - speaking of trying to make sense of too much information) as well :)

Also, no worries! I really enjoy reading this blog (it makes me think! Yay!) and I really hope I didn't sound too confrontational. I enjoy discussion and debate :)