Imagethief is Will Moss. A PR pro in China. I like his blog a lot. So does, CNET, which recently picked him up for CNET’s Asia editions. Anyway, the whole American Internet companies operating in China ethical debate thing? He writes an excellent post which puts it all into great, speculative, perspective:
“So far, US Internet companies have been scrupulous in not suggesting that their prime benefit to Chinese users is access to controversial material, a move that would likely be poorly received by the Chinese government. But nor have they done a good job of articulating what benefits they do bring to Chinese users. Combined with their failure to adequately address the moral conundrum of operating in China –as opposed to the legal conundrum, which has been beaten to death– they have left a nifty vacuum for for their detractors to fill. They do not, nor have they ever, controlled this debate.”
0 thoughts on “Imagethief: brilliant summation of the Great Fire Wall issue”
I’m kind of still on the fence about this one. Should every company doing business in China be required to defend the “morality” of it all? Things in China aren’t going to change overnight. Does that mean all U.S.-based business should stay out of the country until conditions are just perfect? Personally, I don’t think so.
I don’t think so either, ZHR. Heck, I live here, and pay taxes to the Chinese government to boot. Rep. Chris Smith would have my ass in a vise.
The problem for companies like Yahoo is twofold:
First: Many of these companies were born out of a kind of Internet idealism, of which free access to information is a cornerstone. That makes submitting to an onerous censorship regime –and it is onerous, really– completely at odds with their brands. People notice this. That’s why Yahoo and Google attract more attention than, say, Boeing (or even Microsoft, from whom few people expect idealism). Media is different, and Internet media especially so.
Second: These are American companies playing to a largely American customer base. If you ask Americans to name the rights protected by the Constitution, many if not most will cite “freedom of speech” first. It’s seen as an essential American value. These companies are also seen as ambassadors of American values –right or wrong– and people are thus disappointed when they feel those values are not being upheld. Europe is a close second on this count.
This is completely separate from a rational discussion of whether these companies should be in China or not. This is simply the emotional consequence with regard to their brands. The fact that those emotional consequences have drowned out the rational discussion goes to show how badly the companies in question have communicated.
If you asked me to cut one way or other, I’d rather the Internet companies still operated here. But as long as they can’t explain themselves well, in terms of values, they’re gonna get smacked for doing so.