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Overcoming censorship: how Chinese bloggers are outsmarting the great firewall

Overcoming censorship: how Chinese bloggers are outsmarting the great firewall

In light of the removal of Chongqing party leader Bo Xilai from his position last week, the Chinese online community has been buzzing with rumors and government criticism—all without ever mentioning their political leaders by name, according to The Guardian.

Microbloggers have been using cryptic code words, ranging from Teletubbies to Instant Noodles, to keep comments about Bo’s dismissal and meetings of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party from being blocked, The Guardian reports.

Internet users nicknamed Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao “Teletubby,” or tianxianbaobao as the show is called in China, the article said. Other codes include instant noodle brand Master Kong (Kang Shifu) for alleged Bo supporter Zhou Yongkang and “Tomato” (xihongshi) for Bo himself, the article said.

The blog Offbeat China also published a list of key words used by bloggers as well as sample blog posts that incorporated the codes, the article said.

“The team led by Master Kong beef instant noodle was defeated because they lost tomato and it was a great loss,” one post read.

Jason Q. Ng of Owni.eu explained that China’s complex censorship system operates through a combination of restrictions: a government-issued blacklist of content, or the great firewall, in which banned words and controversial statements are physically blocked or removed; and self-imposed restrictions by Chinese companies and users out of fear of legal repercussions.

Since Twitter is banned in China, microblogging sites such as Weibo have become increasingly popular, Ng wrote. Weibo, too, imposes strict regulations on users, blocking searches of banned words or showing users an error message if posts are too controversial, he said.

“Users are at greater risk than ever now that Weibo and other micro-blogs are beginning to require real names during registration,” Ng wrote. “Though the company and government claim that this is merely to hold users accountable for spreading misinformation and malicious rumors, it’s clear that such a measure is designed to head off the type of political commentary that could lead to an online-inspired Jasmine Revolution.”

Despite these harsh restrictions for users, Ng expressed confidence in the skill of Chinese microbloggers in spreading their messages.

“Internet users are clever, and with ever-growing information about how companies and governments censor content online, the mice may never be caught,” he said.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the spotlight of Chinese censorship may even be on the politicians themselves. The CPJ blog reported that several websites supporting Bo were blocked shortly after his dismissal.

Although many of the blog posts may lack journalistic credibility, they still speak to the innovative power of social media to allow those with limited outlets to spread messages virally.

Sources: The Guardian, Owni.eu, Offbeat China, CPJ


Gianna Walton


2012-03-23 14:36

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