“Egosurfing,” also known as vanity searching, egosearching, egogoogling, autogoogling, self-googling, master-googling, is now officially a geopolitical issue causing tension between China and the United States. The latest WikiLeaks dump includes diplomatic cables about the problems of balancing Google and self-esteem, and how it lead to China’s quest to hack and control all of the politically risky information online. Put in more glib terms, everyone Googles their name — even foreign leaders — and now we have proof. (Justin Bieber, I see you.)
There’s a larger, serious issue at play here, specifically China’s obsession with the internet as a threat to power, but the anecdotes are worth a laugh:
The May 18, 2009, cable, titled “Google China Paying Price for Resisting Censorship,” quoted a well-placed source as saying that Li Changchun, a member of China’s top ruling body, the Politburo Standing Committee, and the country’s senior propaganda official, was taken aback to discover that he could conduct Chinese-language searches on Google’s main international Web site. When Mr. Li typed his name into the search engine at google.com, he found “results critical of him.”
Think about it: the line between bad blogger and world leader is eroding by the second, with Hugo Chavez tweeting and a member of the Chinese ruling body biting his fingernails daily before his Google Alert gets delivered. In a way, the blurring of that line — those who care about the internet and those who do important work — is exactly what China is afraid of. So they hope to completely take the reins:
The message delivered by the office, the person said, was that “in the past, a lot of officials worried that the Web could not be controlled.”
“But through the Google incident and other increased controls and surveillance, like real-name registration, they reached a conclusion: the Web is fundamentally controllable,” the person said.
China’s demands, the leaked cables show, were wide-reaching:
The demands on Google went well beyond removing material on subjects like the Dalai Lama or the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Chinese officials also put pressure on the United States government to censor the Google Earth satellite imaging service by lowering the resolution of images of Chinese government facilities, warning that Washington could be held responsible if terrorists used that information to attack government or military facilities, the cables show.
The entire front page story is worth a read, but when you’re done ask yourself this: If you could remove every mean thing or unflattering photo of yourself from the internet, or at least make it unavailable to everyone who knows or potentially could know you, would you do it? That’s what I thought, Communist.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 4, 2010