Table of Contents

Comment Icon0 To curb politically-subversive information from flowing on the Internet, one of the most popular practices that the Chinese government employs involves the blocking of particular websites. Filtered both internally and externally to mainland China, such websites have included those of dissident groups and major foreign news organizations, such as Voice of America, Washington Post, New York Times and BBC. In early 1999, Hong Kong-based activist Lau San Ching helped establish a website at June4.org, to commemorate the victims of the Tiananmen massacre. The plan was to use the website to collect 150,000 signatures worldwide supporting basic human rights. These signatures would be presented to the Chinese Consulate in New York, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). While anyone could support the cause online, those in China could not, as Beijing was quick to block access to the sensitive website (Chase & Mulvenon, 2002). Recalling the massive Falungong demonstration outside Zhongnanhai in April 1999, Beijing imposed a similar fate upon the group’s international network of websites.

Comment Icon0 ONI’s tests revealed that the PRC generally blocks access to subversive websites through IP address, URL address and/or domain-level filtering. To prevent access to a site completely, a filtering regime must block both its URL and its IP address. ONI researchers tested both the URL and the IP address during in-state testing of 29 sites. Out of these websites, the result was consistent for 24 cases, with sites either completely blocked or accessible. The remaining five observably sensitive websites showed inconsistent results, with the sites not fully blocked, allowing access either by entering the sites’ IP addresses or URL addresses. ONI’s study also revealed how Chinese filtering was also prone to overblocking, where the PRC generally blocks on a domain-level basis, thus preventing access to an entire domain rather than filtering individual webpages and URLs. Hypothetically speaking, overblocking occurs when the URL www.stanford.edu/group/falun might be in question, but instead the entire domain www.stanford.edu would be blocked. The PRC is known to block websites specifically by URL when the domains host a wide diversity of content, such as the free web-hosting services like Geocities.com or Yahoo!’s groups. The manner of choosing how subversive sites are blocked depends greatly on the population size of users accessing them; the more people accessing it, the more likely it is to be blocked.

Comment Icon0 Even though the government actively deploys filtering technology, the blockage effect is not 100% effective. Due to the limitations of the filtering software, blocking appears to be intermittent especially when there are too many objectionable sites to censor. Furthermore, materials blocked on one website often remain accessible on other sites. For example, the Foreign Affairs website was blocked in early 2001, presumably because it hosted an article on the Tiananmen Papers. However, the same article was still publicly accessible via a link from the Council on Foreign Relations’ website. Despite these problems, the Chinese government is aware that its methods have been effective enough to deter most users from pursuing such subversive content (Schmit & Wiseman, 2000).

Chapter 6.1.1 – Filtering Websites

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