Web Protests Win Surprise Traction in China

Some fear official tolerance is surveillance in disguise
By Harry Kimball,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 9, 2009 9:20 AM CST
Customers surf the Internet at an Internet cafe in Beijing, China.   (AP Photo)

(Newser) – The usually repressive Chinese government has been surprisingly tolerant of—and even responsive to—a wave of Internet petitions protesting local injustices and corruption. Online campaigns have gotten accused killers freed, officials fired, and charges dropped against a motorist who cut off his own finger to protest police entrapment, then publicized the deed. “This is the era of disguised accountability,” one professor tells the Washington Post, "holding officials accountable by relying on the Internet rather than on traditional means like elections and the checks by the Congress."

Protesters are ecstatic with the effectiveness of online actions; still, much of the Web remains tightly regulated, and some watchers aren’t so sure about the government’s motives. The Communist Party appears almost eager to allow furor over local issues and officials, perhaps as a way to keep tabs on far-flung provinces. Sure, “this Internet power has a huge influence on the government,” a human rights lawyer says. “But it's hard to tell if they are worried.”