Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

A Generation Grows Up in China Without American Internet Giants

Li Yuan, New York Times:

A generation of Chinese is coming of age with an internet that is distinctively different from the rest of the web. Over the past decade, China has blocked Google, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as well as thousands of other foreign websites, including The New York Times and Chinese Wikipedia. A plethora of Chinese websites emerged to serve the same functions — though they came with a heavy dose of censorship.

Now the implications of growing up with this different internet system are starting to play out. Many young people in China have little idea what Google, Twitter or Facebook are, creating a gulf with the rest of the world. And, accustomed to the homegrown apps and online services, many appear uninterested in knowing what has been censored online, allowing Beijing to build an alternative value system that competes with Western liberal democracy.

It’s easy to see why China is able to do this where no other country can: the population there is big enough to support a gigantic isolated ecosystem. For context, all of the regions that major American tech companies tend to optimize for — the United States, the European Union, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand — have a combined population that is about the same as China’s alone.

I see no problem with American tech companies finding it difficult to conquer other countries — there should be healthy skepticism about the risk of having much of the world’s information on platforms operated largely by people on the west coast of the United States. China is a very special case, though, as it is one of the world’s most oppressive administrations, and Yuan’s reporting indicates that a new generation of people has grown up not being fully aware of the degree to which all the information they see is being censored and controlled by an authoritarian regime.