Date
19 November 2017
It may be all right for Chinese netizens to criticize the government but there are limits, of course.
It may be all right for Chinese netizens to criticize the government but there are limits, of course.

Internet censorship: What Beijing govt will and will not allow

It’s generally all right for Chinese netizens to criticize the government and even the top leaders on social networking sites, but any post with the potential to create collective action, for or against the authorities, are more likely to be censored, according to American researchers.

The researchers, from Harvard and the University of California San Diego, conducted a large-scale experimental study of censorship by creating accounts on numerous social media sites, including Weibo.com, and posting hundreds of testing messages on them to see what would be filtered.

The team even created their own fake social websites and installed the same censoring technology as other existing sites in China which therefore enabled them to reverse-engineer the system, said a research paper published on Science Friday, a weekly magazine.

“The criticism on the web, which was thought to be censored, is used by Chinese leaders to determine which officials are not doing their job. The official may then be replaced with someone more effective at maintaining stability, and the system can then be seen as responsive,” the paper said.

China is worried about uprisings, protests and anything that could spur real-life action, not government criticism, research team leader Gary King said.

Many of those posts are caught in an auto keyword filter or are deleted by manual censors.

The most commonly censored posts include words like “masses”, “incident”, “terror”, “go on the streets” and “demonstration”. In addition, posts with words like “Xinjiang”, “Dalai Lama” and “Hong Kong” are more likely to be held for review before they can be published.

“The biggest surprise we found… was the huge variety of technical methods by which automated review and human censorship can be conducted,” the researchers wrote.

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The Chinese censorship decision tree.The pictures shown are examples of real (and typical) websites. Photo: Science


Options for content filtering on forum platform. Photo: Science


EJ Insight reporter

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