The Internet didn’t have the subversive power that was so feared when it first arrived. Instead, it had become a tool to serve the powers that be.
China has the world’s most sophisticated censorship mechanism, and it can be very difficult for outsiders to understand how it works and what exactly is censored.
Several projects are devoted to shedding light on the situation by studying Sina Weibo, the most influential social media platform in China with more than 500 million registered users and 54 million daily active users, according to June 2013 figures. The China Digital Times has a “Ministry of Truth” section that collects directives from the country’s propaganda authorities to media outlets and censored terms in Sina Weibo’s search engine.
Read our collection of leaked propaganda directives here.
Update: The Chinese keywords on messaging app LINE’s “bad words” list and why they are “bad”
Last week, the research lab I pitch in at published the first in a series of posts investigating censorship and privacy concerns in three chat applications: WeChat, LINE, and KakaoTalk. These instant messaging programs, which often replace text messages on smartphones, are expanding rapidly across the world. While WeChat has garnered most of the foreign press, LINE, a Japanese subsidiary of the Korean Internet giant Naver, is no pushover: it has over 200 million registered users, generated $130 million in revenue last year, and is poised for a $10 billion market cap value when it goes public next year.
I’ve already written a number of blog posts translating and describing some of the 150 words that were initially revealed to be on LINE’s “bad words” list. This list, uncovered by Twitter users @hirakujira, was thought to be a precursor to future censorship by the LINE application, but The Citizen Lab’s recent reports uncovered a second set of 370 keywords which do trigger censorship—but only for users who have registered with a Chinese phone number. Thus, LINE users in China would receive error messages when sending messages that contain any of these keywords and asterisked-out text when receiving them.
In addition to the series of 21 blog posts I did on the first chunk of the original list of uncovered “bad words” in LINE, I have translated the remainder of the 150 keywords on the original list as well as translated the majority of the 370 keywords on the recently decrypted list in the following spreadsheets:
- Translation of Line “bad words” list extracted by @hirakujira and confirmed by Citizen Lab (150 words)
- Translation of LINE censorship list decrypted by Citizen Lab (370 words)
Learn about Blocked on Weibo, Jason Ng’s study of Sina Weibo keyword blocking, from China Digital Times.
The US financial bubble is so huge, even a nonexistent website can swindle [traders] out of $20 billion.
Monday saw the end of the week-long detention of Yang Hui, a 16-year-old “rumor” monger accused of causing protests by challenging the official explanation for a local man’s death. Is his release a victory of any sort, or a sign of worse to come? Read more.
The Rumors Are True
The Chinese government is tightening its grip on online “rumor mongers” in an effort to control public opinion.Two Weibo users were arrested on August 21 for allegedly defaming legendary Chinese Communist heroLei Feng. Then Charles Xue, an American citizen Weibo “Big V” celebrity, was arrested on the 24th on suspicion of seeing a prostitute. The state-run press called him an “online rumor monger” as well.
The weibo below could have been deleted for its sardonic take on rumors, but the number 64 almost certainly flagged it for censors. In Chinese, the crackdown on Tiananmen protesters in 1989 is often called “June 4th,” or simply “Six-Four.”
老虎布吃饭饭: Don’t pass on rumors, don’t believe rumors … this is definitely no rumor … // 章立凡: [Long Live Taxes] The government will turn 64 this year, and still insists on working. Generation after generation, we taxpayers have to support the elderly on its behalf.
不传谣，不信谣，这个肯定不算谣… // 章立凡: 【万万税】政府今年64岁了，还在坚持工作，我们纳税人要世世代代给他老人家养老
1985: It’s good to have just one child; the government will support you in old age.
1995: It’s good to have just one child; the government will help support you in old age.
2005: Don’t count on the government to support you in old age!
2012: It’s good to postpone retirement; support yourself in old age.
China Digital Times founder Xiao Qiang talks about Internet censorship and coded language on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered.
The entire city’s propaganda team includes 60,000 people in the system and over two million outside of the system. We must strengthen the positive guidance of hot topics. Every single propaganda worker must successfully utilize new media. ‘Read Weibo, open a Weibo account, post to Weibo, and study Weibo’ to develop the Internet’s positive energy.
Every time I throw away cigarette ashes, it feels like I’m dumping the ashes of my own bones.