Bloggers Asked To Self-Censor

Chinese authorities remain wary of what has become a powerful tool.
2010-07-22
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A screenshot, taken July 22, 2010, shows the homepage of Sina.com's blog site.
A screenshot, taken July 22, 2010, shows the homepage of Sina.com's blog site.
RFA

HONG KONG—Amid a restructuring of China’s blogosphere, some bloggers have reported receiving calls from hosting sites pleading with them to refrain from posting items deemed “sensitive.”

A Beijing-based member of the media, who asked not to be named, said he received a phone call Wednesday from Chinese portal Sina.com asking him to abstain from blogging items that would draw attention from authorities.

"The situation is quite tense recently as both the 163.com and Sohu.com blog sites have been told to restructure,” the blogger said.

“The next [for restructuring] could be Sina.com. They are quite frantic and embarrassed. And as a result they have been calling people, including me, asking to please try not to write anything of a sensitive nature because [the authorities] are paranoid,” he said.

He said it was impossible to know what might be construed “sensitive” because the Chinese government could be criticized for a variety of mishandled issues.

“Everything is sensitive in their eyes, even the flood and the oil pipeline explosion in Dalian, as well as a recent case involving the police beating of an official's wife by mistake,” the blogger said.

Increased monitoring

Chinese authorities have ordered companies that provide microblogging services such as Twitter to step up online monitoring of content, as the major Internet service providers close their popular update services for "maintenance" or testing.

Netease, a leading Chinese portal, was unavailable Wednesday, displaying a notice saying the site was "under maintenance."

Sohu's homegrown version of Twitter was also down over the weekend, while Sina, the official People's Daily online edition, and Tencent all switched to "testing" versions of their microblogging services, netizens said.

Twitter-like microblogging services were described by a recent official report on Chinese Internet use patterns as the main carrier of public opinion.

The prestigious Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) said in a report last December that microblogging services have become very powerful in China.

"Microblogging has successfully broken certain information filtering mechanisms, and publishes a large quantity of first-hand information before traditional media and government news publishing."

And given this new official attention to the blogging niche, users are concerned that Beijing will target their medium with harsh restrictions or even a full ban.

Guangzhou-based blogger "Bei Feng" believes that given China's situation, independent and grassroots microblog Websites are unlikely to survive because of inadequate resources for censoring content according to requirements set forth by authorities.

"For such kinds of microblog Websites, if you don't have sufficient manpower to monitor the content, it's almost impossible to survive under the current state policy and political situation," Bei Feng said.

Rights lawyers targeted

In addition to the larger focus on restructuring China’s blogging services, authorities have been targeting the specific blogs of prominent rights advocates.

Officials in Shanghai removed dozens of articles posted to a blog by rights lawyer Li Tiantian, who wrote about it on Twitter.

Li said she was likely to be fired if the boss of her current law firm was called in to "drink tea" with police over her writings on her blog and on Twitter.

In Beijing, authorities also moved in on the blogs of two prominent rights lawyers: Liu Xiaoyuan's, with 250 articles removed overnight, and Teng Biao's.

Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are all blocked in China, unless netizens use circumvention tools to gain access.

According to China's Online Public Opinion Monitoring & Measuring Department of the People's Daily online, 23 out of 77 key news stories during 2009 were broken by netizens.

Original reporting by Ding Xiao for RFA’s Mandarin service. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated from the Chinese by Jia Yuan. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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