Microblogging Services Halted

Two microblogging services in China are shut down.
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A screenshot of jiwai.de, indicating that the Web site has been shut down.
A screenshot of jiwai.de, indicating that the Web site has been shut down.

HONG KONG—Two popular microblogging platforms in China have permanently shut down after being closed for several months, according to company managers.

Jiwai.de and fanfou.com were the two earliest online providers of Twitter-style services in China.

Li Zhuohuan, founder of jiwai.de, wrote in the March issue of Chinese trade publication Chuangyejia (The Founder) that after months of effort the company was forced to give up hopes of restarting service.

Li said in an interview Tuesday that “the demise of the service was because the site was on a police blacklist in China.”

“We were shut down for no good reason, and the upper level [authorities] didn’t follow normal procedures in dealing with us,” he said.

“We exhausted all efforts in negotiating with them from last July to October. At one point, we naively believed that after last October things might become better, but we were wrong. Later we learned that this was ordered from the top.”

Meanwhile, fanfou.com, the provider of another popular microblogging service, was forced to announce termination of operations Monday after being similarly targeted by the Chinese government.

“There is no hope of a resurrection for fanfou.com. In the future we may provide other cyber services, but not a Twitter-style service,” a Fanfou employee said Tuesday.

Contacted by phone, Fanfou’s chief manager Wang Xing said, “I’m sorry, it’s inconvenient for me to be interviewed,” before hanging up.

Microbloggers targeted

On July 21, 2009, authorities suddenly shut down several Twitter-style service providers in China, including jiwai.de, digu.com, and zuosha.com.

Fanfou.com’s services had been suspended by authorities 0July 8, but in the lead-up to the crackdown, the service provider boasted nearly 1 million users.

Jiwai.de provided services to an estimated 200,000 users before it was blocked.

Analysts pointed to ethnic riots in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, starting July 5 last year as the cause of the suppression.

Chinese authorities, fearing leaks of information about the deadly clashes, launched a round of closures against cyber-businesses, with a focus on microblogging service providers.

Several Web sites have since reopened, but Fanfou remained down and on Tuesday its developers' blog had been changed to a login screen for users to export messages they had posted via the service.

Twitter, in addition to social networking Web site Facebook, was also blocked in China following the riots, but some Chinese users still access the service with software that allows them to circumvent the government's sophisticated set of blocks and censorship filters known as the Great Firewall.

Despite these controls, microblogging remains hugely popular in China, a country whose netizens are expected to surpass the 400 million mark in 2010.

Ironically, Chinese President Hu Jintao appeared as a user on the microblogging platform of the official People’s Daily Web site and acquired tens of thousands of followers within the first 24 hours of his registration.

Several of his followers called openly for a restoration of the Twitter site.

Limited by censorship

Beijing-based Internet expert Dong Xiaoxing said Tuesday, “I like to live in a place where I have the freedom to use tools such as Twitter. But in China, Internet servers often delete online postings as a result of pressure from the top [authorities].”

“The upper-level controllers didn’t directly say that a post should be erased. Rather the deletion was from the cyber-operators themselves. They change censorship into self-censorship,” he said.

Dong said that the fate of Jiwai and Fanfou demonstrates that the development of cyber-business in China is severely limited by censorship.

He said Chinese Internet companies will find it very difficult to become influential international enterprises operating under such conditions.

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.

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





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