Google is targeting Facebook with its new social media product, Google+, now in an invitation-only test phase.
Just a day after its limited release, China swiftly decided to block Google+, highlighting once again the country's strict censorship practices.
Social media such as Facebook and Twitter have been increasingly used in the last few years to denounce authoritarian regimes and their repression of the population. Egyptians and Tunisians organized their protests using Facebook and Twitter, driving crowds into the streets and ultimately wresting power from entrenched dictators. In Libya, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain too, among others, social media has been instrumental in orchestrating political uprisings and denouncing the use of violence by the security forces.
Fearing the consequences of allowing the new social media to be widely used, the Chinese communist regime has banned citizens from accessing Google's fledgling social network, Google+, according to watchdog sites JustPing and Greatfirewallofchina.org.
The Mountain View, Calif.-based company has yet to respond to China's action.
However, before China's ban was even established, Chairman Eric Schmidt had complained to journalists that governments are increasingly clamping down on Internet freedoms. Schmidt used China as an example, but last May, he also had to stand up to French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the G8 summit after the latter insisted the Internet needed tougher regulations and governments should have more control.
"There are countries where it is illegal to do things that Google encourages," Schmidt said. "In those countries, there is a real possibility of employees being put in prison for reasons which are not their fault."
The Chinese government's rapid decision to restrict access to Google's latest experiment has less to do with Google specifically and more to do with how concerned it is about the power social networks wield in organizing anti-government protests.
China already blocks Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Foursquare. The government position on the censorship of social media is not set to change in the foreseeable future, as it recently accused Facebook of fuelling Vietnamese protests against China's involvement in the disputed Spratly Islands.
Beijing was also widely criticised as it started tracking its citizens' geolocations in March. While city officials claimed they needed to study traffic patterns, Human rights activists are worried the city will use its mapping power to keep tabs on dissidents and protestors.
Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his supporters were recently slapped with a $91 million fine for blacking out telecoms during the Egyptian uprisings. In Iran, too, people have been protesting against the government's plan to create an internal online network that would block outside websites, and hackers recently targeted Turkey for planning to restrict its Internet starting this August.
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