Net Nanny vs. Great Firewall

This is a comment from a recent Danwei post about Internet censorship in China:

So, why does Danwei refuse to use the term “Great Firewall”? I find this term quite apposite, and I find “Net Nanny” boring and overly cute, playing down the seriousness of the imposition. Is there a post somewhere on this topic someone can point me to?

We replied:

The short answer is that we’re simply accustomed to using the term “Net Nanny” and see no reason to change.

The longer answer is that China’s Internet censorship apparatus is nothing like the monolithic wall that the term “Great Firewall” conjures up.* Instead, it’s a complex system of IP blocks, keyword filters, and content review conducted by national, regional, and local ISPs as well as content hosts and service providers, and restrictions vary depending on location, visibility, and the phases of the moon.

“Net Nanny” conveys the idea that content management policies are set down by paternalistic government agencies, which actually operate in similar ways in off-line areas as well. “Great Firewall,” on the other hand, plays into the idea that the Internet will be a catalyst for political change—revolution—and that the government needs the defense of a Great Wall to keep out the foreign invaders.

*Strictly speaking, the Great Wall is a fairly appropriate metaphor for China’s online censorship regime: it wasn’t a monolithic structure, nor was it all that effective of a defense. However, that’s not the “Great Wall” that exists in public consciousness, so the term “Great Firewall” is still misleading.

See also: Forget the Great Firewall from Silicon Hutong.

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