Sunday, July 31, 2011

China puts the squeeze on blogs

China Tightens Control of Blogs and Microblogs

AOL News

TAIPEI, Taiwan (July 16) -- China appears to have tightened restrictions over blogs and "microblogs" in the last week, underscoring Beijing authorities' jitters over the subversive potential of social media.

The Associated Press says that several bloggers had reported that their sites were down as of Thursday evening.

"I was writing a new post, and suddenly my blog couldn't open," lawyer Pu Zhiqiang told the AP on Thursday.

China tightens control of Blogs and Microblogs
Ng Han Guan, AP

Dozens of blogs by some of China's most outspoken users have been abruptly shut down while popular Twitter-like services appear to be the newest target in government efforts to control social networking.

Meanwhile, China's growing pack of Twitter clones, or "micro-blogging" sites, had service outages or displayed messages suggesting some type of network testing was under way.

Netease's "weibo" or micro-blog site went down for maintenance for several days, while those of the Sina, Sohu and Tencent services displayed "beta" tags next to their logos, according to the AP.

"The government will definitely tighten their control over microblogging, but I don't think they'll completely shut them down," popular Chinese blogger Lian Yue told NBC News. "It's hard to dig out the real reason behind this temporary shutdown, but it could be related to the change of the way information spread."

Twitter, Facebook and other Western-origin, popular social media sites are blocked for China's Internet users, now estimated to number 420 million.

However, Beijing authorities have allowed homegrown clones such as social media site to prosper, on the condition that they self-censor objectionable content in line with government rules.

Chinese authorities are playing an increasingly complex game of restricting some Internet content while promoting other kinds of online expression as part of the nation's modernization drive.

Verboten online content includes mentions of banned religious sect Falun Gong, Taiwan or Tibet independence or strong criticism of the central government that crosses an unspecified "red line." Search for such subjects typically returns an "error" message, with access to the Internet sometimes blocked for several minutes afterward.

Any attempt to organize opposition to the central authorities online is quickly quashed by an army of "net nannies" patrolling chat rooms and other sites. Social media is a particular challenge because criticism can spread in scale so quickly online.

Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet Project at the University of California-Berkeley, told the AP that authorities can't keep up with the proliferation of new media. "Given the speed and volume of microblogging content produced in Chinese cyberspace, censors are still several steps behind at this stage," Xiao said.

Other raucous debate and discussion is given free rein, such as netizens' debate over a recent police shooting in Guangzhou, popular discontent with local party officials or so-called "human flesh search-engine" cases.

The latter refers to a mob of netizens who work together to find and post personal information about someone who has sparked their wrath, contempt or intense curiosity.

Some government units are actually promoting social media as a way to reach out to residents. A report from the Shenzhen Evening News posted to said the Pingshan Ministry of Public Security in southern China opened a microblog Thursday evening.

"We want to strengthen our communication with city residents and Web users, increasing the interaction between police and the people through more channels," an unnamed security official told journalists, according to the report.

According to another report, from the China News Service today, public security ministries in 21 cities in southern Guangdong Province had launched microblogs, and Beijing police are planning to launch a microblog too. But the fate of such sites generated by private citizens rather than government entities seems more unclear than ever.

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