Netizens Take Aim

Chinese netizens launch a Twitter campaign against censorship.
2010-01-25
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People use computers at an Internet cafe in Beijing, June 3, 2009.
AFP

HONG KONG—Netizens in China have turned to a popular microblogging service to vent their growing frustration with online censorship.

Users of Twitter in China launched the new campaign on Jan. 24 criticizing Beijing’s sophisticated system of blocks and filters known collectively as the "Great Firewall," or GFW.

Twitter users initiated the campaign with the use of the symbol #GFW when expressing views on Internet censorship. Twitter users often employ a "hash tag" symbol before a term inside their postings to make searches by topic easier to conduct.

China-based Twitter user Feng Yan said he could no longer contain his anger over China’s Internet censorship.

“The Great Firewall censors everything, including Facebook and Twitter. We’ve had it. Enough is enough. We are mad as hell,” Feng said.

“That’s why Sunday afternoon we decided to start the online flash model. To bypass censorship, we mixed Japanese, Arabic, and German words with Chinese local dialects sprinkled with vulgarities. We trashed the GFW real good.”

China’s Great Firewall uses certain keyword search terms to filter online content, but it is often unable to effectively censor foreign languages.

Clinton blocked

Internet user Guo Baofeng said he was unable to view the U.S. State Department’s Web coverage of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech on Internet freedom last week because it too was blocked by the Great Firewall.

“This happened the day she delivered the speech. The English script on the [State Department] Web site was blocked. The GFW did not want us to see it. But China-based Web sites—for instance that of the [official] People’s Daily—carried scathing criticism of Hillary’s speech,” Guo said.

“The authorities didn't want us to know exactly what she had said. They want us to see the criticism, but not the original speech.”

Another participant of the anti-GFW campaign vented his anger in a post on Twitter.

“Freedom is not free. When someone robs you of the money you kept in your left pocket in order to build a wall, you’d better take an equal amount of money from your right pocket and hire a crew to tear it down.”

Domain names, Web sites targeted

Many of China’s nearly 360 million netizens are disgruntled at the increasing failure of Internet circumvention tools to get around the Great Firewall.

As part of an apparent bid to control the entire China-based Internet, the state-owned China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), announced in December that private individuals would no longer be allowed to register domain names under China's ".cn" top-level domain.

Beijing also said it planned to set up a blacklist to prevent the owners of domain names found violating curbs on content from applying for additional domain names.

According to Chinese media, that would effectively set up a "whitelist" of sites accessible to Chinese Web users, with any overseas-based Web site cut off from Chinese users by default unless they file the correct paperwork with relevant authorities.

Chinese netizens and overseas technology experts say the authorities are now successfully undermining key software used to get around the Great Firewall, such as U.S.-based software developer Andrew Lewman’s Tor “tunneling” software and U.S.-based Dynamic Internet Technology’s Freegate software.

Netizens have also reported problems using Chinese versions of Twitter.

Twitter equivalents Fanfou, Jiwai, and Digu were recently shut down, forcing many Internet users to migrate to Twitter, bloggers said.

Original reporting by Xin Yu for RFA’s Mandarin service. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Jennifer Chou. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.