A Road Map for Censorship

March 31, 2012

David Bamman, Brendan O’Connor, Noah A. Smith  present some interesting facts based on a study they wrote about in their article, Censorship and Deletion Practices in Chinese Social Media.  Their study touches on a variety of different aspects regarding how China allegedly controls the intake and outflow of information.

The Chinese government methods are far different from the United States’ approach. My understanding of the situation is that China takes censorship to extremes and infringes on the freedom of their citizens using the GFW (Great Firewall of China) , which filters key phrases and words, preventing access to sites like America’s Facebook and Google. However, Sina Weibo is the Chinese equivalent of Facebook where bloggers post and pass information presumably in a way the officials perceive as more suitable for the Middle Kingdom.

Sina Weibo is monitored and as long as members stay within the boundaries or disguise their information, posts go unnoticed. If any of the outlawed phrases are entered, the user’s post is deleted and anyone searching for the information is met with the phrase ‘Target weibo does not exist’. If the user properly masks the phrase or words used, the information will get through, showing that there is the possibility of future change regarding the censorship practices in China.

The GFW will catch obvious outgoing information such as political figures, which was monitored during the study. The article asserted:

In late June/early July 2011, rumors began circulating in the Chinese media that Jiang Zemin, general secretary of the Communist Party of China from 1989 to 2002, had died. These rumors reached their height on 6 July, with reports in the Wall Street Journal, Guardian and other Western media sources that Jiang’s name had been blocked in searches on Sina Weibo (Chin, 2011; Branigan, 2011). If we look at all 532 messages published during this time period that contain the name Jiang Zemin, we note a striking pattern of deletion: on 6 July, the height of the rumor, 64 of the 83 messages containing that name were deleted (77.1 percent); on 7 July, 29 of 31 (93.5 percent) were deleted.

No firewall is perfect, but according to the studies done on searches, blogs and texts containing prohibited information, China has a pretty impressive figure. It may not seem reasonable by American standards, but by filtering anything they deem as politically sensitive, China protects the privacy of their country, preventing global rumors and interference.

On one level, censorship makes sense, in particular regarding the business world. The Chinese government makes its corporations responsible for their employees, meaning if an employee is blogging instead of working and puts in illegal information, the company itself is fined, or worst case scenario, shut down. Thus Chinese factories have a high rate of productivity because their workers are actually doing their job.

How is China’s alleged position relevant to the US? There may be little relevance, but to officials in other countries, the article’s information may be just what one needs to check into a Holiday Inn of censorship.

Jennifer Shockley, March 31, 2012

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