“Researchers in Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science analyzed millions of Chinese microblogs, or “weibos,” to uncover a set of politically sensitive terms that draw the attention of Chinese censors. Individual messages containing the terms were often deleted at rates that could vary based on current events or geography.
The study is the first large-scale analysis of political content censorship in social media. The analysis found that the level of online censorship varied between different provinces. The phenomenon was particularly notable in Tibet, a hotbed of political unrest, where up to 53 percent of locally generated microblogs were deleted.”
The recent detention of a California physicist by Chinese security agents has shown how far the government will go in exercising its social media regulation. Ge Xun was abducted in Beijing this month and was roughly questioned by public security officers at a secret location. Mr. Ge said “The agents peppered him with questions about his blogging activity, his membership in an organization that promotes dialogue between Tibetans and Chinese, and his role in maintaining a Web site that supports a blind lawyer living under house arrest in China.” It appears that Mr. Ge’s greatest fault is his zealous embrace of Twitter, a social media outlet blocked in China along with other web sites deemed a threat to the government’s hold on power. This recent event suggests how far the government will go in exercising its social media regulation and censorship.
Mr. Ge described that when he refused to provide his Twitter password, two of the security agents unleashed a torrent of kicks and punches that lasted 30 minutes. In the end, Mr. Ge and his captors came up with a compromise: he did not reveal his password but logged on to Twitter and allowed them to peek inside his account.
In the wake of a political scandal involving one of China’s most famous mob-busting security officials, scrutiny on the Chinese government’s political motivations on social media sites has increased. Wang Lijun, the deputy mayor of Chongqing recently visited the US consulate, which has sparked mass online discussion about the purpose of his visit. City officials have stated that he had sought “vacation-style medical treatment”. Microbloggers on Sina Weibo has speculated that Lijun has sought refuge in the embassy and is intending to defect. The Chinese government has usually censored blog posts concerning its officials, however no censorship has been implemented. “Observers have sought to find signs of broader political meaning in an unusual way – by watching how the Chinese authorities have, or have not, censored social media posts on the subject.” The lack of censorship by Chinese government officials seems to imply that they are allowing this story spread on purpose, and perhaps pointing to troubles for Lijun with the top level party officials.
The original article by the New York Times can be found here.
With the recent announcement of the Facebook IPO, the real test will be when Facebook will enter China – and how. Facebook’s success is largely due to its ever increasing number of users, and to remain outside of the world’s biggest internet market would seem foolish. The big question is not when, but how will Facebook proceed. Another internet behemoth, Google, had tried to negotiate with China on web censorship, however negotiations ended with the company leaving China in 2010. Also, Facebook’s vision of “openness” may clash with China’s great firewall of censorship and with government officials, who are worried more than ever with the event of Arab Spring facilitated by Facebook and Twitter. At the same time, Facebook investors interested in continuing monetization will push the company to connect with China and its 513 million internet users.