Chinese Censors Shut Down Popular Science Social Media Accounts

PaperClip and Elephant Magazine have been shut down for 'smearing the efforts of the Chinese government.'
By Yitong Wu and Xue Xiaoshan
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Chinese Censors Shut Down Popular Science Social Media Accounts A man uses a computer in an internet cafe in Beijing in a file photo.

Government censors in China have shut down the accounts of several popular science blogs -- including Elephant Magazine and PaperClip -- across major social media platforms, state media reported.

"Multiple social media accounts featuring science videos and news comments, including PaperClip, were banned or suspended on various Chinese platforms on Wednesday, under suspicion of spreading unverified information and smearing efforts of the Chinese government," the state-run Global Times reported.

They included PaperClip, Elephant Magazine, and the personal account of their founder Huang Zhangjin, the paper said.

Huang told RFA that he had been expecting the move.

"I thought this would happen sooner or later," he said. "Just when we thought there was a way through ... we have been shown that it was actually a dead end."

"They are making sure that there's no way for any media to keep going now ... So let them; I'll go do something else now," Huang said.

Former Weibo censor and current China Digital Times journalist Liu Lipeng said the move was part of a culture of online "witch-hunts" under the CCP's censorship regime.

"This is tantamount to carrying on a Cultural Revolution online," Liu said."

"This isn't just about a few popular science accounts: it's going to have a direct impact on ordinary people," he said, adding that there is now a culture of informing and retaliatory complaints among online accounts in China.

The Global Times said PaperClip had drawn the ire of nationalist Little Pink commentators in 2018 for posting a video that didn't include the democratic island of Taiwan -- which has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), nor formed part of the People's Republic of China -- as part of Chinese territory.

'Controversial content'

The shutdown came after video sharing site Bilibili flagged PaperClip's account as "controversial" and warned its three million followers to treat its content with "caution."

Elephant Magazine was also criticized for "controversial and groundless remarks attacking cotton production in Xinjiang, as well as China's high-speed railway," the Global Times said.

Both blogs were unavailable to users on WeChat, Weibo and Bilibili on on Wednesday.

Since Elephant Magazine was briefly shut down a few years ago, the channel has steered clear of more overtly political subject matter, but PaperClip was targeted by nationalist Little Pinks in March over a video linking dairy consumption and soybean cultivation to the destruction of Brazilian rainforests, mentioning China as the world's largest purchaser of soybeans.

The video was slammed as being "anti-China," as the video had been made in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund, according to the U.S.-based news site SupChina.

Internet commentator Ye Du said that since the decline of BBS bulletin boards in 2009, there has been scant space afforded to those with liberal views on China's tightly controlled internet.

"There's no longer any media platform that the liberal faction can use to communicate freely with the people," Ye said.

CCP general secretary Xi Jinping's April 19, 2016 speech calling for a "clean-up" of cyberspace based on "core socialist values," ushered in a full-on crackdown on online speech, according to an online activist surnamed Wang who runs the Twitter account @SpeechFreedomCN.

"Xi Jinping released his speech on that day ... and the next day, various platforms were blocked across the whole internet," Wang said in an interview with RFA in April.

"That included citizen media accounts, including entertainment-related accounts ... that had nothing to do with politics," he said. "They have been tightening these policies ever since."

Meanwhile, several users of the Kaidi online community, which once featured posts about social justice, have been jailed for up to four years for criticizing the government, while the site has since been "cleaned up," now offering only anodyne lifestyle and entertainment-related content, commentators told RFA.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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