Priceonomics

Can you build a search engine that shows only the results you want? It’s possible, but don’t expect anyone to use it.

Foreign Policy reports today on a Chinese search engine called Jike, meaning “immediately” in Chinese. It was launched by the People’s Daily, the newspaper of the communist party, and praised by China’s Propaganda Minister who hoped that it would help “guide online behavior.”

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Jike very clearly censors information and promotes stories that the government prefers:

A search for “separation of powers” sends readers to articles arguing that such ideas are not fit for China’s “unique situation.” A search for dissident artist Ai Weiwei features the censorship line (common in other Chinese media properties) that “according to relevant laws and regulations, a portion of the search results aren’t provided,” then follows with a series of state-sponsored articles critical of Ai.

Unfortunately for the good people of Jike, the search engine has been a failure. Two and a half years after its launch, Jike has a market share that is effectively zero. 

But this isn’t exactly a coup for freedom of information. Chinese search engines already cooperate with censorship guidelines, allowing China to steer people away from critical content without the hassle of doing the censorship themselves.

(As an aside, this account of a young American reporting for an English-language business magazine makes for a fascinating account of what it’s like to toe the line when self-censoring in today’s China.)

Instead, this seems to be a massive failure by the People’s Daily, which is a traditional newspaper, to stay relevant in the digital age. People in China are already forced to go outside normal channels to access free information. If the failure of Jike proves anything, it’s just that communists aren’t very good at building search engines.

This post was written by Alex Mayyasi. Follow him on Twitter here or Google.



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