A Picture is Worth How Many (unfiltered) Words?
Students will become familiar with:
- The Google search engine in and outside of China
- The events surrounding the confrontation at Tiananmen Square between Chinese forces and the Tank Man
- How censorship affects what the media reports and what the public learns
- Computers and Internet access
- Copies of student worksheet "Searching the Internet for Truth: June 4, 1989"
- Copies of BBC article "On This Day: 4 June 1989"
- Copies of student worksheet: "Censor It"
- Red markers or pens for each student
- For classrooms that do not have Internet access, teachers may print the materials for these lessons using the following links:
- 5-10 minutes for general group discussion
- 90 minutes to watch "The Tank Man"
- 10-15 minutes to conduct the Opening Activity. (This can be assigned for homework.)
- 10-15 minutes for reading and discussion of BBC article
- 10-15 minutes for "Censor It"
- Distribute copies of the worksheet "Searching the Internet for Truth: June 4, 1989."
- Direct students to complete this task in groups of three or four.
Main Activity — Part One:
Reconvene as a class, distribute and read the BBC article together. (Students will need to save the BBC article to use in the "Censor It" activity.) Discuss the following points:
- Why were students protesting at Tiananmen Square?
- Why did the government clash with student protesters?
- What was the result of this clash? Why are accurate numbers of casualties difficult to determine?
- Why do you think Google-China's search engine and the Chinese government block access to sites like this BBC story?
- To what extent do you think that the BBC article reflects a bias?
Main Activity — Part Two:
- Write the following nine terms on the board:
|Tibet||Democracy China||Freedom China|
|Taiwan China||Dissident China||Justice China|
- Explain to the class about The Empirical Analysis of Internet Filtering in China:
In 2002, researchers at Harvard University tested Google Internet access in China to determine which search terms were frequently blocked. The researchers checked to see if the search terms typed in Chinese locations would connect to the same sites that a Google search in the United States would yield. For example, when the researchers typed terms such as "equality" or "democracy china" into Google's search engine in the United States, they were linked to media organizations such as the BBC or Time Inc. or to universities such as Stanford University or Columbia University. In China, these same sites were frequently blocked.
Source: Edelman, Benjamin and Jonathan Zittrain. "Empirical Analysis on Internet Filtering in China." The Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. 20 March 2003. http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/filtering/china/google-kw-chart.html (15 March 2006).
- Instruct the students to examine the nine terms that are a sampling of the blocked search terms. (These terms were blocked during at least 50 percent of attempted searches.)
- Discuss the following questions:
- What are some of the issues surrounding Taiwan and Tibet that cause the Chinese government to restrict access to these terms?
- Why do you think the Chinese government restricted and continues to restrict access to some sites pertaining to "equality," "democracy" or "dissidents"?
- What other terms do you think the Chinese government would censor? Why?
- Are there any search terms that the U.S. government might monitor or censor? Identify these terms and explain.
- Is a censored Google in China better than no Google? Explain.
- Divide the students into pairs and distribute the "Censor It" handout. The students will complete the task ˆê blackening out words in the BBC article on the Tiananmen Square protests that the Chinese government would find objectionable. After the pairs censor the article, they will analyze how censoring the information affects their understanding of the events and evaluate its impact on controlling information. (These directions are also listed on the students' handout.)
Method of Assessment:
- Student participation in large group and small group discussions
- Written responses to questions on handouts