DIGITALK: Political influence creeping into tech and entertainment

Ross Tibbles
Ross Tibbles

There has been a lot of international controversy recently involving the political influence of countries on technology and gaming companies – in particular, China.

You may be wondering how this affects us out here on the moor, half the world away or more, in a seemingly uninvolved country. How many items do you own stamped with “Made in China”? Your computer? Your phone? Your TV? I’m willing to wager that the majority of us have at least one device in our homes that is made there.

Earlier this year America imposed a trade ban with China-based tech giant Huawei, stating that they posed a national security risk. This includes stopping Google, the main producer of the apps commonly used on the android open source platform, from being used by Huawei. This was based on the fact that they have their headquarters and manufacturing facilities in China with the main fear of being influenced by the country’s leader, Xi Jinping, who has now been made leader for life by a near unanimous vote last year.

With increasingly strict regulations being imposed on everyday life, media bans and blanketing being prolific and now an un-opposable leader, concerns are cropping up about the political state of the country. This includes fears that they might forcibly request data collected from devices that could be controlled by influencing
locally-based manufacturers.

This is a major concern as Huawei is the second biggest android based mobile phone company behind Samsung, currently with more than half a billion consumers using their handsets. If the security of these devices were to be breached for any reason, it would have a devasting impact on the world.

So you can see where the USA’s concerns are in regards to this topic. But so far there is no proof and Huawei is adamant that they are independent and abiding by international laws so I’m willing to trust them until proven otherwise. A lot of this could just be down to bluster from the States which has had a rocky trade agreement with China for a very long time.

The next issue is far more current and just as worrying. As you know, there are ongoing protests, demonstrations and unrest going on in Hong Kong at the moment as they contest for their rights.

Hong Kong is a former British colony that was handed back to China in 1997 and has since been run under “1 country 2 systems” where they are allowed to individually govern themselves outside of mainland rule. This came under threat recently when Hong Kong was pressured into trying to pass a law that meant people could be extradited to the mainland for criminal offences. Fearing there would be political implications on this it was heavily contested and protested about.

This has now been overturned but the protests continue as they fight for universal suffrage, the right to vote on their political leadership, which is currently handled by an electoral committee of just over a thousand, along with a few other demands including an investigation into allegations of police brutality. Which, from what I’ve seen, is far from mere allegations as more proven, recorded and filmed incidents are rife on online.  They including a protestor being shot with live bullets and throwing tear gas into peaceful gatherings.

This being said, the protestors have had their disruptive elements too, including Molotov’s being thrown and destruction of government property. The old saying goes: “A mob is only as smart as its dumbest member”.

The Hong Kong situation has now been causing controversy in the gaming world, sparked off by pro Hearthstone player Wai Chung, a.k.a Ng Blitzchung, being not only banned for a year, but having his prize money stripped from him after voicing pro Hong Kong sentiments in a post-competition interview.

After an immense public outcry, Blizzard, the creators of Hearthstone and the organisers of the tournament, reduced his ban to 6 months but still refused to return his winnings. Not only was Wai Chung banned, the two broadcasters conducting the interview were also fired.

Wai Chung commented later: “As you know there are serious protests in my country now. I put so much effort in that social movement in the past few months that I sometimes couldn’t focus on preparing my Grandmaster match. I know what my action on stream means. It could cause me alot of trouble, even my personal safety in real life.”

“But I think it’s my duty to say something about the issue,” he added.

With Chinese tech giants being substantial shareholders in Blizzard, this looked like a very rash attempt at protecting investments and appeasing the Chinese government.

This has been denied by Blizzard, who claim that the ban was due to a breach of terms and conditions stating that “actions that insults or incites others to act in a way that is abusive, insulting, mocking, or disruptive” is a ban-able offence and the ban is not because of political affiliation or investors.

Regardless, it has not been without consequences for Blizzard with sponsors such as Mitzubishi pulling their support in light of these events, claiming that this borders censorship in one of the biggest media platforms, a view echoed by some independent US lawmakers who contacted Blizzard over this. Since then several others have been banned from competitions
including an entire pro league team.

Since this occurred, ‘Fight for the Future’ a non profit organisation that campaigned against SOPA and PIPA in 2012, which was an even more extreme version of Article 13 that I wrote about last year, (which passed, by the way, while all the Brexit confusion was getting started and comes into effect in 2020/21), has started a campaign called Gamers for Freedom.

Their aim is to pressure gaming companies such as Blizzard into keeping politics out of gaming decisions and to support basic rights.

All this comes together to show just how politics can be detrimental to the progression of technology and media and I hope that the fears don’t come true and that the freedom to express views in competitive gaming is protected in the future.

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