Great Firewall keeps Chinese users out

Courtesy of Ryan McLaughlin

If you are in China, chances are you aren’t reading this.

AFP reports that software developers in Hong Kong have created a new piece of technology that identifies censored posts on China’s main microblog. The program, called Weiboscope, detects politically sensitive posts on the country’s Sina Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, which have been deleted by Chinese censors.

According to AFP:

“Beijing regularly blocks Internet searches under a vast online censorship system known as the Great Firewall of China, but the growing popularity of microblogs such as Sina Weibo has posed the authorities a new challenge.

The Hong Kong programme helps researchers ‘look at the (microblogging) impact on Chinese society’, lead researcher and journalism professor Fu King-wa told AFP.

The study showed posts including names such as disgraced Chongqing Communist Party boss Bo Xilai and dissident Chen Guangcheng, who left China for the US in May after fleeing house arrest, had been frequently deleted in the past few months.”

This comes after the Wall Street Journal reported that Chinese users were having difficulty accessing Bloomberg News and Weibo’s new Chinese language news service:

“It wasn’t clear what the source of the access problems were. China maintains tight control over the flow of information online. Chinese-language websites of foreign media are occasionally blocked during politically sensitive times and individual stories in both English and Chinese are at times censored, but a full block of an English-language news site is rare. It’s generally difficult to determine with certainty whether a website has been blocked, with attempts to access blocked sites yielding vague error messages

Chinese officials have shown increasing sensitivity to online activity since last year, after such activity contributed to uprisings spreading through the Middle East and northern Africa. More recently, following the ouster of senior party leader Bo Xilai, China’s government has cracked down on comments on its popular microblogs and on websites it deems sensitive. Chinese social-media sites, like Sina, often close accounts on their own accord or delete posts that they feel could run afoul of government censorship regulations.

Analysts expect such controls to continue as the country prepares for its once-a-decade leadership transition starting this fall.”

Chinese users have taken note in the past. According to Mashable:

“When the country’s firewall crashed in 2011 for less than two days, citizens logged on to Google+ to complain that their government ‘doesn’t represent the Chinese people.

Typically, people in countries with restrictive access to the Internet use VPNs, Virtual Private Networks, to access blocked sites while keeping the user undetected. Chinese Internet users using VPNs can tunnel under the national firewall and use banned sites as if they were in another country that allows those sites. Traffic is encrypted so the Chinese government’s censors cannot see what content users are viewing.

Last year, Internet users in China reported poor connectivity while visiting sites such as Google while using a VPN, the Guardian reported. It was suspected that the Chinese government was involved.”

What do you think? Will the Great Wall ever fall?

In just three days the summer edition of Carnet Atlantique goes live! If you’re a fan of Elaine Sciolino, you will want to check out our July issue. Keep your eyes on this space!

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