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Chinese censorship icon Jingjing.  (Source: China.org.cn)

Jingjing and Chacha pop up when debates become heated, gently reminding users to "advance harmony."  (Source: Wired/Committee to Protect Journalists)
Surge in traffic from earthquake creates a short-lived gap in Chinese censor coverage

Freedom groups everywhere breathed a sigh of relief when, earlier this week, Chinese censors were reported to be buckling under the weight of a country eager to talk about its devastating 7.9 earthquake. Now, it appears, those groups may have been incorrect: China’s censors never went anywhere, and the country’s “Golden Shield” project appears to be back to normal.

Previous reporting on the topic revealed that Chinese news sources were “surprisingly frank” with their reporting, revealing an uncommon level of honesty for a government that, characteristically, heavily regulates the flow of negative information. Chinese bloggers were able to communicate freely in all but the most extreme of circumstances, and Chinese message boards were littered with a variety of thoughts on the earthquake, both good and bad.

While many were hoping that the censors’ visibly relaxed controls would be permanent, the Chinese government quickly rebounded to the old status quo as activity died down. Even worse; it appears that the government propaganda machine was in effect all along.

United States-based Committee to Protect Journalists’ Asia program coordinator, Robert Dietz, noted that journalists “rushed to the scene,” and described a “general feeling that the government had lifted the restrictions on reporters.”

Instead, said Dietz, “the central propaganda department never stopped handing down directives, never stopped telling people how much to report.”

On the public front, Chinese netizens are gently reminded to “self-regulate” by the country’s cartoon censorship icons, Jingjing and Chacha. One example, provided to Wired’s Threat Level by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the line-drawn duo orders users to “advance harmony,” by popping up at the bottom of the user’s screen if they posted a comment considered inflammatory.

However small and short-lived it may have been, the gap in Chinese censorship coverage reveals an interesting gap in the regime’s armor: like most everything else, the “Golden Shield” project is not invincible. Chinese users have long known that they can circumvent government blacklists with proxy servers – something the government actively cracks down on, creating a game of cat and mouse – but now, apparently, they can flat-out overwhelm it too.

With the country reportedly encouraging up to 500 million of its rural citizens to migrate to urban population centers – putting each of those migrants all the closer to computers and cellphones – can internet censors keep up?



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RE: Mixed feeling about this.
By CSMR on 5/25/2008 2:06:59 PM , Rating: -1
Problem is that method requires trust. (Chinese government has more trust than US, UK governments but still not absolute.) I am sure they considered that approach and evaluated its effectiveness.


RE: Mixed feeling about this.
By Emily on 5/25/2008 2:48:35 PM , Rating: 3
However, suspicion can increase if people find out about the censorship: they may wonder if the government trying to cover up anything.

I doubt that the Chinese government have that much more trust than the US/UK government. I reckon it is more a case that the economy in China has done very well in the past decade, and a lot of people are leading better life than they used to ago, and that matters more than knowing that there is a lot of information manipulation going on (made possible with selective censorship).

And while I am sure the Chinese government did evaluate their options, the system was probably put in place for their own benefits more than to stop false rumours.


RE: Mixed feeling about this.
By CSMR on 5/25/2008 3:55:54 PM , Rating: 1
Suspicion depends on the amount of censorship and when it is observed. If you do a lot of censorship, and it isn't public exactly what you're censoring, then it will not create much suspicion about particular issues.
By trust I meant that statements made by the government would be trusted more than statements made by the US, UK governments.
What I am saying is that even with quite a lot of trust, and even (hypothetical situation) if the motivation is clearing up misinformation, censorship can be an effective option.


RE: Mixed feeling about this.
By Spuke on 5/25/2008 7:27:38 PM , Rating: 3
Wow! I didn't realize that ANYONE believed in censorship in any form. On the other hand, I guess I shouldn't be so surprised given the types of laws that have been passed (and supported) in the recent past.


RE: Mixed feeling about this.
By saiga6360 on 5/26/2008 9:30:29 AM , Rating: 2
If no one believed in censorship then it wouldn't exist now would it? We all have within ourselves the belief that some people should just STFU because we do it to protect ourselves. That will never change.


RE: Mixed feeling about this.
By Emily on 5/25/2008 8:25:11 PM , Rating: 2
It may be effective but it comes with undesirable possible side effects [expressed in my other reply]. There is a limit to how often censorship is used before people notices it.

I believe that censorship should be reserved for sensitive materials only (i.e. something the government need to keep classified as it affect public security).

There are other means available to clear 'misinformation' without a tool can also be used to manipulate information.


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