Content producers in China face strict regulation and censorship. Blockchain-based content distribution systems may help online creators have more control over sharing their work, but may also bring about new government guidelines.
Chinese Tradition of Online Censorship
In China, internet access and online material are regulated by what is colloquially called the “Great Firewall.” For example, most Chinese citizens cannot regularly access social media sites or those of international organizations, like Amnesty International, without a virtual private network (VPN). In October 2017, before the start of The Communist Party Congress, when new political leaders are announced, the government cracked down on VPN use and ordered Apple to remove VPNs from its Chinese app store. Meanwhile, Chinese censors scoured the web, removing any negative or disrespectful content directed toward authority figures.
In September 2016, the government released its new “Administrative Regulations for Online Publishing Services,” which controls content from both domestic and foreign sources. Most online media including images, text, video and any related databases must be approved by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television. Article three of these rules states that as well as following all regulations, publishers must “Persist in the orientation of serving the people and serving Socialism, persist in the progressive orientation of advanced Socialist culture, [and] carry forward the Socialist core value view.” Moreover, anyone producing content must register with an approved service provider that is also responsible for censorship.
Can Blockchain Liberate Chinese Creators?
While China outlawed ICOs (initial coin offerings) in September 2017, it has not turned against blockchain technology altogether; Director General of the Research Institute of the People’s Bank of China Sun Guofeng describes it as a “good technology.” The blockchain is a distributed computer network that connects users directly rather than through a centralized hub or authority.
“[The ICO ban] should not prevent relevant financial technology companies, industry bodies and other technology firms from continuing their research into blockchain technology,” said Guofeng.
A 2017 WEF survey of 800 executives found 58 percent believe up to 10 percent of the global GDP (gross domestic product) will soon be stored with blockchain technology.
“In essence, the blockchain is a shared, programmable, cryptographically secure and therefore trusted ledger, which no single user controls and which can be inspected by anyone,” says Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF).
Matej Michalko, Founder and President of DECENT, an open source blockchain content distribution platform, hopes blockchain can serve and liberate people in China who produce online media. “Blockchain has the potential to transform the online media and publishing industry by cutting out middleman controls, simplifying distribution, dramatically reducing cost and allowing artists/authors direct control over their creations,” he says. DECENT operates out of Switzerland, Armenia, Slovakia, and China.
Because publishers on blockchain can easily connect with peers and their audience, they may be able to use it to evade portions of China’s publishing regulation structure. They can share their work quickly and securely and receive payment directly. However, the government could also likely create new rules to police this type of virtual self-publishing and adapt blockchain technology for its own surveillance and regulatory purposes.