Tweets of Freedom

NEW YORK – Google has been widely celebrated for its loud refusal to continue censoring its search results in China. It is still unclear whether Google will continue to operate in China, but in any event we are not about to see much change in China’s Internet policy. More likely, all this “foreign meddling” will merely cause the Chinese government to dig in its heels.

Even if Google does ultimately leave China, the game is not over. Western companies can promote Internet freedom from the outside, by providing useful technology as well as the keys to access it. Call this “Twitter diplomacy.”

Twitter is largely blocked by China’s “great firewall” (GFW), which prevents Chinese people from accessing certain sites. Yet Twitter has an almost religious following among tech-savvy Chinese, whose determination to use the service outstrips authorities’ efforts to block access to it.

These “netizens” surmount the firewall by way of proxy servers or virtual private networks (VPNs) that allow them to browse the Web as if they were outside of China. Earlier this month, Chinese twitterati helped get the GFW onto the list of Twitter’s top ten “trending topics” (or most tweeted terms) – an impressive feat given that Twitter is supposed to be inaccessible in China.