Image credit: Matt Hintsa.
Nicholas Kristof, New York Times star columnist and No. 10 entry on the 2013 Hack List, has some shocking news. You can buy illegal things over the Chinese internet even though you can’t go on Facebook.
Want to buy illegal drugs in China? No problem — just go to the wild and woolly Internet here and order a $50 or $100 package of methamphetamines, ecstasy or cocaine. It’ll be delivered to your door within hours!
“Our company has delivery stations in every part of China,” boasts one Chinese-language Web site, with photos of illegal narcotics it sells. “We offer 24-hour delivery service to your door, and we have long-term and consistent supplies. If you just make one phone call, we’ll deliver to your hands in one to five hours.”
Kristof posits that the easy availability of methamphetamine compared to, say, Twitter is because what the authorities in China “actually fear isn’t so much people with guns as citizens armed with information and social media accounts”.
While Kristof’s core point is a good one, if a tad simplistic (‘the government shouldn’t block Facebook and the New York Times‘), his drugs and guns analogy is misguided. There’s a world of difference between blocking access to a huge corporate entity like Twitter or Bloomberg, compared to stamping out black market drug dealers. When Bloomberg was blocked last year, the huge news organisation couldn’t just switch IP and ditch bloomberg.com, even if it could, the sheer size and notoriety of Bloomberg would make it less a cat-and-mouse game with censors as cat-and-capybara.
Kristof should maybe ask law enforcement officials in the US, another country where one can easily buy illegal drugs and guns over the internet, how easy they find policing the Darknet (a veritable cornucopia of child pornography and anarchist bombing-making manuals where drugs and guns are the least worrying element).
Kristof’s handwringing about censorship and pearl-clutching about drugs offers no solutions to either problem. The Pulitzer prize winning journalist could have used his huge platform at America’s paper-of-record to echo Evan Osnos’s call for the US to better protect its reporters from China’s censors and immigration authorities, an actual solution to a pervasive problem and one that shine far more of a light on the Chinese government’s inner-workings and wrongdoings than letting people go on Facebook.