During the event, Obama took a mix of questions from audience members and questions that had been submitted online, including one question that was sent via e-mail to the U.S. embassy in Beijing. That question, which was selected by a member of the U.S. press corps from a list of questions received by the embassy, asked Obama if he was familiar with China’s Great Firewall and whether or not he felt Chinese Internet users should have unrestricted access to Twitter.
“I’m a big believer in technology and I’m a big believer in openness when it comes to the flow of information,” Obama said, after admitting that he’s never used the microblogging service.
The Chinese government works hard to regulate Internet access, routinely blocking access to sites outside China that it considers problematic. Twitter is currently blocked in China as are other Web sites, such as YouTube. While Obama did not mention China or its censorship policies during his answer to the question, he cited the unrestricted flow of information in the United States as a source of strength for the country, citing the importance of the Internet to his 2008 presidential campaign.
Allowing unrestricted access to the Internet allows citizens to hold their government accountable and encourages them to think for themselves, Obama said, adding that this helps spur creativity and generate new ideas.
Obama picked out Google as an example of how the U.S. benefits from the absence of Internet censorship.
“If it had not been for the freedom and openness that the Internet allows, Google would not exist,” he said.
Obama joked that he sometimes wished he could censor the spread of information in the U.S., but said vocal criticism of his policies had made him a better leader.
In addition, Obama acknowledged that the Internet can be used by terrorists
“There’s some price you pay for openness, but i think the good outweighs the bad and it’s better to maintain the openness,” he said.
Video of the question-and-answer session was carried live on the White House’s Web site. The event was not broadcast live on national television in China. While Xinhua, China’s state-owned news wire, announced plans to carry the event live, live video of the event was not available on the Web site. Instead, the Web site covered the event with a written summary of the questions and Obama’s answers.