By Yao Xiao, Exchange articles co-manager, Syracuse University public diplomacy student
An article titled Hackers, bloggers and professors team up to tap into locked microblog content was published on Global Times (an English-Language daily tabloid under the auspices of People’s Daily, as an extended organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China) on July 29th, 2013. It went viral on Sina Weibo (the most influential and popular social media network in China) and was deleted shortly after its zooming publicity.
This article introduces to its readers several projects that are dedicated to uncover content
blocked on Weibo and the ideals of their founders, who are mostly Chinese patiotists living overseas or foreigners based in China. Freeweibo, for example, launched on October 10th, 2012, displays content that are deleted or blocked on Weibo and breaks search results down to “blocked by Sina Weibo” and “official search results” for its users. Greatfire is another project that provides a database of blocked keywords and URLs and monitors websites to see if they are blocked. The founders of these websites have all remained anonymous to avoid political risks and these sites are unfortunately not accessible in the mainland.
It is also pointed out in this article that Chinese citizens in general have little knowledge about Internet censorship. When asked about their opinion on Google’s withdrawal from the mainland, people did not seem to care and simply repeated the official statement that “censorship is just and necessary”.
Academic efforts on studying social media and Internet regulations are restricted under the Great Firewall (also known as the Golden Shield Project, a censorship and surveillance project operated by Ministry of Public Security of the Chinese government). Websites such as Freeweibo could be a good inspiration and a valuable source of data for other projects if made accessible to professors and students who observe and study how Internet and media operate in China. WeiboScope, for example, a data collection and visualization system developed by the Journalism and Media Studies Center of the University of Hong Kong, is also blocked in the mainland. It is one thing to block sensitive incidents and alleged scandals from popping up in one’s social media feeds, and quite another thing to impede research and analysis on the impact of regulations and policies. With such “thorough” censorship, it is hard to convince the world that this nation is moving toward to a more democratic future.
The Great Wall of China may have won numerous tourists over home and abroad, but the Great Firewall of China only functions to push hearts and minds away.