June 14, 2005
@ 05:14 AM

There's been a bunch of hubbub on certain blogs about MSN Spaces and some of the content filtering that happens on the site due to a recent Financial Times article entitled Microsoft bans 'democracy' for China web users. I've seen a lot of rhetoric about this topic and have avoided commenting on it since it is a sensitive topic that has evoked rather emotional and inflammatory responses from commenters including some Microsoft employees.

I will say two things though. First of all, the behavior of MSN Spaces isn't something that is tied to any recent ventures in the past month or two by MSN in China as the article purports. In December of last year Boing Boing ran a post entitled Chinese editions of MSN Spaces censor political terms which covers the behavior described in the Financial Times article.

The second is that the response to the initial feedback on the "censorship" on MSN Spaces made by Michael Connolly in his post Comments on Content Moderation is still valid. Specifically he wrote

There have been a lot of observations since we launched on how we moderate content on Spaces.   Just so there aren’t any misconceptions floating around, here is exactly what we do, and why.

One of our main goals for Spaces was to create a platform for people to share their thoughts and feelings with their friends and the outside world.  However, we wanted to make Spaces usable by not only the people who are blogging today, but also be approachable by the general internet user, who might not have heard of blogging previously, or been given an opportunity to try it out.

Unfortunately, whenever you create an open platform for people to say whatever they want, and open it up to the wide world (14 languages, in 26 different markets), there is always a handful of people who spoil the party, and post a bunch of inappropriate (and in some cases illegal) stuff. And to make matters worse, what exactly is deemed “appropriate” or not is very subjective, not only from person to person, but from country to country
We block a set of specific words from being used in 3 areas: the url you select, the title of your Space, and the title of your blog entry. These three fields are reused and displayed in a variety of areas, like search results, so we thought it would be a little thing we could do to cut down on the obvious cases that would most easily offend.

MC made his post in December of last year and this is still the state of affairs today. I don't know if any official statement will be made in response to the article but I did think it would add some perspective to the various discussions to actually get the facts and as opposed to hearsay.

Quite frankly I've been saddened see the kind of language and rhetoric used in posts like Tim Bray's Microsoft and China to describe the above situation. We have lots of Chinese users who use MSN Spaces to share their lives with friends, family and the rest of the online world. Read their blogs, view their photos and try to see things from their eyes instead of letting the rhetoric blind you to reality.


Tuesday, June 14, 2005 2:44:29 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Dare: I'm actually saddened to see anyone try to connect MC's comments about "party spoilers" and "inappropriate stuff" to the discussion of words like "freedom" and "democracy".
Tuesday, June 14, 2005 3:07:18 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
See, the problem is we don't GET to 'see the world through their eyes'. We can only see the world through the Chinese governments filter. By constraining what they can say, MSN spaces is limiting their ability to express themselves. Which is contrary to the notion of what a 'blog' is.

Imagine if instead of filtering out words, MSN spaces forced you to rhyme every second word. It would limit your ability to express yoursef, espcially if you wanted to talk about oranges. The idea behind a blog is free flow of information from your brain to the WWW.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005 5:46:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Scott, did you read what Dare wrote. He said the words were filtered within a global context. In other words, they can't be part of the URL, article title, and blog title. If I read this correctly, they can be part of the text.

Search engines and global spaces have long filtered titles and other data that appears out of context of the post and in a spot with mixed readership. Don't believe me? Ask Dave Winer about filtering weblogs in weblogs.com based on weblog.title.

Dare, thanks for the clarification. I'm blogging this myself.

(Dare, your comment software does not react well to the use of the EM element...)
Tuesday, June 14, 2005 6:49:57 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Yes, so the MSN Spaces title "Democracy for China Now" would not be allowed in the MSN Spaces China version. Writing an article titled, "Why China should have more freedom" is a no-no too.

It's still being run through the filter. You filter the title, you might as well filter the content. Do you really think that the Chinese government will allow the content to discuss freedom and democracy?
Tuesday, June 14, 2005 8:18:49 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Bah. There is no context in which forbidding the use of the words "democracy" and "freedom" is not obscene. If your business decision-makers told you to do it that way, you gotta do it that way if you want to go on working there. But you lower yourself by defending it.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005 8:19:27 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
It is not Microsoft's job to fight for global freedom of the internet. MSN Spaces is a tool. A service. It is not a champion for justice, or an enforcer of the global good.

That falls on us. Something to think on when we buy our next Chinese manufactured Apple product.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005 9:50:09 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Good one Dare! Thanks for the fact checking. It's very useful. It is intereting how something so straightforward is being heard, too.
Wednesday, June 15, 2005 9:47:14 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Good article, Dare. I totally understand and support your position.

For those who don't, let's play the "what if" game for a second.

Imagine that Microsoft would allow "freedom", "democracy" and other words that are part of our daily vocabulary at home and at work but that are banned by evil governments. Now, the government of China which, you see, has the right to govern China, would be entitled to kick MSN China out of the Internet because it breaks Chinese laws, the same way the EU has kicked Windows Media Player out of Windows for allegedly breaking some EU laws. They might even go further and make Microsoft pay some other record fine for interfering with Chinese internal affairs and policies, and the whole thing might even go political.

As Shelley said above, it's not Microsoft's job to fight for global freedom and democracy. I'd say that it's not even the USA's job. As a company, Microsoft's job is to run its business according to local laws without even arguing about them.
Thursday, June 16, 2005 4:08:31 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Well, I'm sorry Dare, but you lost me on that one.

I think it's a good thing for Western companies to get involved in China, but I think we ought to draw the line somewhere. I don't have infinite wisdom, so I don't know exactly where that line is.

That said, it seems to me it should be pretty obvious that the line has been crossed when said companies actively cooperate with the Chinese government's apparatus of oppression. Not only cooperate, but give them the technology they need to overcome the internet's potential to undermine their 'leadership'.

Remember, people whom the Chinese government consider "out of line" speech-wise are not just censored, or even fined. They are thrown in jail. Sometimes tortured. Or executed. Yes, killed. This is not just rethoric Dare, China executes a lot more people than *gasp* Texas.

Thursday, June 16, 2005 6:12:58 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Put me in the camp of those who feel this is still the wrong choice. A corporation is nothing but a collection of people--who work there, own the stock, partner or use the products and so forth. If the people at Microsoft agree that free speech and democracy, say, are important values, then so does the company. As many much eloquent writers than me have said, it is providing the opportunity for those whose message you despise to be heard that is the best test of these things.
Thursday, June 16, 2005 4:06:27 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
What Chinese law is broken by the inclusion of the word "freedom" in the title of a blog?
Anonymous Coward
Thursday, June 16, 2005 6:09:06 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
"Read their blogs, view their photos and try to see things from their eyes instead of letting the rhetoric blind you to reality."

How exciting can it be? They are censored, right? If they write anything of political interest, they doesn’t do it in your blog. You have stopped them! So the only voices that you let through are the happy or the non political ones. Why do you want us to read their blogs? Does that increase our understanding of the Chinese people's happiness of censorship? Of course not. Perhaps you didn't have a choice, but you can't prove that Chinese people love to be censored by telling us to read blogs about something else.
Friday, June 17, 2005 4:07:59 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I think that treating use of the word "freedom" as "spoiling the party" is rather twisted.
Friday, June 17, 2005 4:08:40 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I think that treating use of the word "freedom" as "spoiling the party" is rather twisted.
Friday, June 17, 2005 6:12:26 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
The more you and Robert Scoble try to defend this indefensible policy, the worse you and Microsoft look to the rest of us. Because we are left with either thinking you have no basic understanding of fundamental democratic principles or you just don't care.
Saturday, June 18, 2005 12:15:50 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
This is the problem with corporations. It's the almighty dollar the drives everything. This in turn perverts the minds of its employees, who deceive themselves into excusing the unexcusable.

Dare, show some dignity for yourself and have the backbone to stand up for your principles instead of giving them a back seat to your corporate master.
Saturday, June 18, 2005 10:29:23 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Look, we all appreciate that companies who work under quasi-totalitarian regimes have to abide by the laws.

Here's a good rule of thumb:

If you had to explain yourself to your mother, would you be proud of yourself?

Here's a sample:

"Today, I helped work on a product which helps the Chinese government prevent its citizens from expressing themselves. It's not against the law, but we just decided it would help us make more money if Chinese citizens couldn't use words like 'freedom' or 'democracy'."


Microsoft has a lot of great products, and it's gotten a bad rap where it doesn't deserve one (like, for instance, in the EU). I heard this, and the first thing I thought was, "Wow, can you be more Orwellian?". The complicated sophistry I see from people like you and Scoble makes me think, "Yup, they're drinkin' the Kool-Aid".

Sunday, July 10, 2005 2:21:56 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
" what exactly is deemed “appropriate” or not is very subjective, not only from person to person, but from country to country"

right. chinese guys want to see "american sluts" while us guys want to see "asian sluts" (or "oriental sluts" whichever). i don't want to even guess what karl rove and that band of perverts wants to see.
Sunday, July 10, 2005 2:24:24 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
us guys = USA guys
(just to clarify.)
Comments are closed.