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Monitoring Internet openness and rights: report from the Citizen Lab Summer Institute 2014

Monitoring Internet openness and rights: report from the Citizen Lab Summer Institute 2014

The control of information flows on the Internet is becoming more commonplace, in authoritarian regimes as well as in liberal democracies. Ben Zevenbergen and Jon Penney discuss their presentations at the (University of Toronto) Citizen Lab’s summer institute on “Monitoring Internet Openness and Rights.” The institute brought together academics, business representatives and regulators to discuss information control research and practice in the fields such as censorship, circumvention, surveillance to private sector and governmental adherence to human rights.

Past and Emerging Themes in Policy and Internet Studies

What kind of research does the journal Policy & Internet publish? Editor Vili Lehdonvirta approaches the question from two angles; first, by examining the question empirically, through a brief thematic analysis of the articles published since its launch in 2009; second, by considering what kind of research the journal is likely to publish in the future, both in terms of what kind of trends can be seen emerging in policy and Internet research, as well as in terms of what challenges outlined in the journal’s original vision that continue to be pertinent today. Read the full editorial.

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How easy is it to research the Chinese web?

By 2015, the proportion of Chinese language Internet users is expected to exceed the proportion of English language users. But how easy is it for researchers to find or request content and traffic data from the major Chinese websites for research? Han-Teng Liao discusses the issues of government control and intervention, public opinion monitoring, language and data tools (and the challenges of processing Chinese language texts), narratives and propaganda, and how to identify geographic information from Chinese Web data. With some robots thrown in too…

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Uncovering the patterns and practice of censorship in Chinese news sites

China keeps sliding down the Press Freedom Index — now languishing in 174th place out of 179. While Internet censorship has attracted much attention from scholars and institutes, including IP blocking, keywords filtering and deletion in social media, censorial practices in news websites have never been comprehensively described or quantified. In their paper, “Unmasking News in Cyberspace: Examining Censorship Patterns of News Portal Sites in China” Sonya Y. Song (with Fei Shen, Mike Z. Yao, and Steven S. Wildman) present the first empirical study to systematically examine news deletion on major news portals in China.

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The complicated relationship between Chinese Internet users and their government

The Chinese government has been incredibly successful and sophisticated in the way it has established control over the Internet in China, both over web content and public discourses about the Internet’s function in Chinese society. David Herold (Hong Kong Polytechnic University) discusses the results of a research project into how students in Shanghai talk about the Internet, arguing that even when criticising government controls and censorship, they do not genuinely challenge the status quo, but accept it as unavoidable and without alternatives.

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How effective is online blocking of illegal child sexual content?

Blocking of ‘illegal’ websites and online content keeps raising questions in many countries. Karel Demeyer, Eva Lievens and Jos Dumortier discuss the inefficiencies and legal perils of website blocking in their Policy and Internet paper: Blocking and Removing Illegal Child Sexual Content: Analysis from a Technical and Legal Perspective. They find that blocking is a technically ineffective means of stopping the distribution of child pornography, and that it risks ‘mission creep’ if blocking measures are extended to sites that violate other laws, such as copyright or gambling.

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