China Blocks Access to YouTube -- But Why?

China appears to be blocking all access to YouTube. Now, why in the world would it do something like that? I've got some theories.

First, though, the facts: YouTube use from China started dropping off the map sometime Monday night, with traffic nearly reaching a standstill by Tuesday morning. Google (which owns YouTube) has confirmed the apparent ban, though its staff is not certain of the cause.

"We do not know the reason for the blockage, and we're working as quickly as possible to restore access to our users in China," a spokesperson says.

Google does believe the Chinese government knowingly cut the access. The spokesperson, however, questions why officials wouldn't have just blocked a specific video, as they've done before, rather than nixing the entire site.

Conflicting Messages

Here's where things get interesting: A Chinese Foreign Ministry official tells Reuters his nation is not scared of the Internet -- in fact, he says, it embraces the exchange of electronic information.

"Many people have a false impression that the Chinese government fears the Internet. In fact it is just the opposite," the official, Qin Gang, explains. "China's Internet is open enough, but also needs to be regulated by law in order to prevent the spread of harmful information and for national security."

That second sentence -- you know, the one that contradicts the statement before it -- is key here. While China maintains appearances of being OK with an "open enough" network, "open enough" really means not open at all. The country's government has blocked YouTube multiple times before. As recently as March, access to the site mysteriously vanished amid riots in Tibet, which just happened to be videotaped and uploaded prior to the blocking.

China's put the kibosh on countless other sites over the years, including Wikipedia, Flickr, and Google News. Then there was that little promise it made prior to last year's Olympics: Read my lips. No Internet blocking. (For foreign journalists, anyway.) We saw how long that pledge lasted.

The country's cracked down on iTunes and Amazon, told GoDaddy to go away, and said no to The New York Times , citing nonexistent "technical problems" for the troubles. Heck, the government even kept power-blogger Robert Scoble from doing his thang within the People's Republic. So what's the deal?

Murky Standards

The truth is, the Chinese standards for online content are about as clear as an average motherboard's manual. The government's guidelines for online news state that stories should be "healthy" and "in the public interest." Video and audio restrictions, meanwhile, require multimedia material to avoid damaging "China's culture or traditions." Calling the Communist party's tactics into question? Count your Web site out.

Since January, the sultans of censorship seem to have gone on a blocking binge, shuttering hundreds of sites both inside and outside of China. A busy blog hosting site and a political portal were among the entities recently hit with the "REJECTED" stamp.

Finding the Reason

What about China's newfound 'tude toward YouTube, then? I looked through the video site's most recent popular videos to find potential triggers for the sudden suppression. First, I thought the freshly favorited softcore pseudo-porn uploaded by user "sujithrade" might have pushed the censors over the edge. But then I played it and realized the 50s-era cartoon-style music made the clip far too funny to be taken seriously.

Then I saw that the Numa Numa guy had uploaded a new video this week, and I thought surely that was the reason for the freezin'. After all, it offends nearly every possible sense. But come on -- who wouldn't at least let out a teensy chuckle at that jolly gentleman's awkward antics? Couldn't be it.

Finally, I saw it -- right on the YouTube home page. It was the first video under the "Rising" tab, and it explained everything.

From the video's description:

"Jonas Brothers today announced the first round of dates and cities for The Jonas Brothers World Tour 2009. The tour, which will take the band to three continents, will feature new music taken from ... their upcoming ... album."

The Jonas Brothers? World tour? Three continents? Of course.

Now I understand.

Connect with JR Raphael on Twitter (@jr_raphael) or via his Web site, jrstart.com.

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