Table of Contents

Comment Icon0 As mentioned in the beginning of this study, the adoption of blogs by Chinese citizens changes China’s Internet landscape beyond the overplayed, dichotomous battle between dissident versus government in the use of the Internet. Beyond censorship that is envisioned by the international community as “The Great Firewall of China”, a more significant yet incremental shift of power has been afforded to the population caught in the middle, the very Chinese citizens who were once passively watching now have a means to express their sentiments on issues around them.

Comment Icon0 German observer Peter Wu already expressed that Western researchers have misunderstood the media and societal situation in China, by focusing too heavily on censorship, thus under-estimating the massive potential presented by the Chinese blogosphere. Wu noted that Chinese blogs form the “civilian” intelligentsia, the creation of the “different viewpoint” from Beijing, and the change in Chinese society (Feng, 2007). Several modern scholars familiar with both Eastern and Western media practices have shared Wu’s perspective, including prolific blogger, Rebecca MacKinnon.

Comment Icon0 As an online journalism professor and co-founder of Global Voices, Rebecca MacKinnon published an Op-Ed in the Asian Wall Street Journal, affirming the aspect of China’s censorship that foreigners do not typically see. She cited her writing as “an effort to get people to go beyond what Internet scholar Lokman Tsui describes as a Western fixation on ‘Iron Curtain 2.0’ that blinds most Western observers to the realities of the Chinese Internet” (MacKinnon, 2008a). She stated that the new reality for China is that there is an immensely larger space for public discourse on social issues than ever before. Even so, the Chinese government does try to continue limiting this space, by imposing more targeted yet subtle forms of censorship upon public discourse.

Comment Icon0 ONI reported that one of the first instances of blog content censorship in China came in March 2004. The PRC had closed three popular, domestic blog providers, namely blogcn.com, blogbus.com and blogdriver.com. It was believed that the shutdown started when a blogger posted a controversial letter regarding the Tiananmen Square incident and the SARS outbreak (Liu, 2004). Consequently, all three providers were allowed to re-open, but they had to implement filtering mechanisms to control content posted onto their blogs. These systems search for sensitive keywords when users attempt to post material. Using a hidden list of 987 sensitive keyword discovered in the popular QQ instant messaging software, ONI used these keywords to test the blog-filtering mechanism of the three providers. Researchers discovered that Blogbus and BlogCN filtered less than 20 keywords, whereas Blogdriver filtered 350 of the terms. While BlogCN and Blogdriver prevented the user from completing the post by issuing a pop-up alert, Blogbus simply replaced sensitive keywords with asterisk characters (e.g., ****). Above all, blog censorship showed that the PRC was not only preventing citizens from reading subversive content online, but preventing them from sharing subversive content as well. Even though China pursues a multi-pronged campaign to regulate the Internet, ONI discovered that the blog-filtering software was not fool-proof, as researchers were able to bypass them by munging characters of the banned keywords. This would include substituting entire phrases (e.g., Li Shufen’s death = push-ups), or characters with symbols and numbers in order to spoof the machine while maintaining some resemblance of a word for human readers (e.g., democracy = d3m0cr@cy).

Comment Icon0 As a testimony to their significance in civil society, Chinese bloggers are getting worldwide recognition for their work. Liu Xiaoyuan, a Beijing-based lawyer, recently won the Deutsche Welle’s annual prize for the Best Chinese Blog. Most notably, bloggers such as Liu are ultimately sympathetic to the blog service providers (BSP) as they understand the political pressure these companies face in China. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Liu even praised Sohu when it censored his blog simply because Sohu was more respectful in the manner in which they did it compared to most BSPs. He noted that Sohu was the only BSP that posted notices on his blog saying, “this post has been hidden/removed for certain reasons”. He felt that Sohu was being brave for saying so instead of deleting blog posts quietly (Wall Street Journal, 2008). Interestingly, Liu noted that he wrote on about a dozen blog-hosting services as each seemed to have different censorship criteria, thus allowing his writing to be kept alive on the web. Liu’s example inspired Rebecca MacKinnon to conduct a systematic study of how blog-hosting companies in China censor their users’ content.

Comment Icon0 As part of her research project on censorship on different Chinese blog-hosting services, MacKinnon discovered a double standard when it came to disseminating sensitive news to the public, which would include the international audience. Specifically, citizen bloggers were more restricted than professional journalists when it came to publishing sensitive news reports. Using the 9th August news story of the fatal knife attack on American tourists atop Beijing’s Drum Tower, MacKinnon and her associates logged into a number of Chinese blog-hosting services and posted the first paragraph of the Chinese-language state media report of the incident. She observed that on Sina.com, one of China’s most popular blogging platforms, the service deleted her post within a few hours. Ironically, Sina’s news portal was openly running news reports about the attack. In the case of blogging on one of China’s largest Internet media conglomerates, Baidu.com would not even allow her to publish the post. Similar to Sina’s case, Baidu news search on “drum tower” turned up several Chinese media reports about the incident (MacKinnon, 2008b). MacKinnon interpreted this censorship strategy as one where the professional news media would publish reports on a more conservative level than citizens would. The Chinese government would focus their censorship on blogs, chatrooms and video-sharing sites, as these services might encourage unfettered discussion of the news.


Figure 11: Chinese blog censorship by platform (MacKinnon, 2008b)

Comment Icon0 As seen in Figure 11, MacKinnon’s extended her Chinese blog censorship study by posting more than 100 instances of current affairs content with varying level of political sensitivity, across 15 different Chinese blog-hosting platforms, namely Baidu, Blogbus, BlogCN, iFeng, Mop, MSN Live, MySpace, Netease, QZone, Sina, Sohu, Tianya, Tom, Yahoo! China and YCool. Assigning letters to company names to protect their identities from the Chinese authorities, MacKinnon found that only one company censored more than half of the content posted (later revealed to be iFeng), while the most relaxed company censored only one posting. In conclusion, the variance in blog censorship demonstrated a decentralized approach to domestic censorship in China. Similar to how censorship is conducted in the mainstream media, blog censorship is often outsourced by the government to private companies (MacKinnon, 2008b).

Chapter 6.1.2 – Filtering Blogs

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