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Blogs in China: Free and Open They’re Not

There are an estimated 300,000 blogs in China, with thousands being added daily. The government is stepping up efforts to control their content. The OpenNet Initiative — a partnership of the Citizen Lab at the Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, and the Advanced Network Research Group at the Cambridge Security Programme, University of Cambridge — conducted a revealing experiment into Chinese blog filtering:

    Over the last year, the Chinese government has focused increasing attention on the control of blogs. Three popular domestic blog providers in China were temporarily shutdown in March 2004. The websites of the three blog providers, blogcn.com, blogbus.com and blogdriver.com, were not filtered or blocked through technical means, rather they were closed down. The home pages of each of the sites carried a message indicating that their services were temporarily suspended … Although the blog providers have been re-opened, all three have implemented a filtering mechanism to control the content of blog posts.

    ….Since China does not publicize its list of banned keywords, we use the QQ list as a representative sample of the type of topic areas the government may be targeting for filtering on blogs.

    We created blog entries of all 987 keywords to each blog service and identified the individual keywords that triggered filtering mechanisms built in to the blog software. Two of the Chinese blog providers prevented the creation of entries that contained these keywords while one censored the entry by replacing the offending words with “*” characters.

    ….While Blogbus and Blogcn filter 18 of the 987 and 19 of the 987 keywords, Blogdriver filters 350 of the 987 keywords tested. The filtered keywords generally fall into five categories:

    National minorities’ independence movements: the well known Tibetan cause is represented as well as Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia. The inclusion of some Taiwanese politicians’ names also fall into this category as they are all people who are known to support Taiwan independence.

    Tiananmen Square incident in 1989: it is referenced both by the full name, “Tiananmen massacre,” the Chinese custom of referencing important events by the number of the month and the day (in this case, 6-4), and also by reference to people involved — a mother of one of the victims who has been campaigning for human rights.

    The name of Zhao Ziyang, former Chinese Communist Party (CCP) general, is also included in this category.

    Chinese communist leaders: a list of the top leaders, past and present, are included along with a particularly creative rewriting of Jiang Zemin by replacing one of the characters of his name by the character for “thief.”

    Falun Gong: a list of different names for Falun Gong including various spellings with characters that sound the same, often used to circumvent filtering.

    Sensitive words: a list of words referring to uprisings or suppression.

    ….The filtering system is not designed to be foolproof. The filtering mechanism on all three blog providers we tested can be circumvented by adding characters, such as dashes, to split up the filtered keywords. For example, all three blog providers filter the Chinese characters for six/four (“六四”), which is short for June 4, 1989 — the date of the Tiananmen Square massacre. However, if users include a dash, “六-四”, the blog post will not be filtered.

I would say this is a losing battle for the Chinese government, perhaps tacitly acknowledged by the looseness of the filtering. The economic prosperity the government is fostering with capitalistic policies is the very engine that will ultimately destroy that same government’s ability to control interpersonal and even mass communication, for the Internet is both.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: Twitter@amhaunted, Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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