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Blocked on Weibo: What Gets Suppressed on China's Version of Twitter (and Why)by Jason Q Ng
Synopses & Reviews
Though often described with foreboding buzzwords such as "The Great Firewall" and the "censorship regime," Internet regulation in China is rarely either obvious or straightforward. This was the inspiration for China specialist Jason Q. Ng to write an innovative computer script that would make it possible to deduce just which terms are suppressed on Chinas most important social media site, Sina Weibo. The remarkable and groundbreaking result is Blocked on Weibo, which began as a highly praised blog and has been expanded here to list over 150 forbidden keywords, as well as offer possible explanations why the Chinese government would find these terms sensitive.
As Ng explains, Weibo (roughly the equivalent of Twitter), with over 500 million registered accounts, censors hundreds of words and phrases, ranging from fairly obvious terms, including "tank" (a reference to the "Tank Man" who stared down the Chinese army in Tiananmen Square) and the names of top government officials (if they cant be found online, they can't be criticized), to deeply obscure references, including "hairy bacon" (a coded insult referring to Maos embalmed body).
With dozens of phrases that could get a Chinese Internet user invited to the local police station "for a cup of tea" (a euphemism for being detained by the authorities), Blocked on Weibo offers an invaluable guide to sensitive topics in modern-day China as well as a fascinating tour of recent Chinese history.
What did Chinese authorities do in July 2009 when tensions between the predominantly Muslim population of Chinas Xinjiang province and authorities escalated into violent riots? They turned off the Internet in Xinjiang. This inspired China scholar Jason Q. Ng to devise a computer script to test all 700,000 terms in Chinese Wikipedia to see which ones are routinely censored on Sina Weibo, Chinas version of Twitter, which currently has over 300 million users.
The result was the groundbreaking and highly praised Blocked on Weibo blog, expanded here into a book. Ranging from fairly obvious words, such as "tank" (a reference to the "Tank Man" who stared down the Chinese army in Tiananmen Square) and the names of top government officials (if they cant be found online, they cant be criticized), to deeply obscure terms, such as "The Four Gentlemen" (though it means a set of four traditional flowers, it can also refer to various quartets of dissidents) and "hairy bacon" (a coded insult for Maos embalmed body), Blocked on Weibo collects many of the phrases that could get a Chinese Internet user invited to the local police station "for a cup of tea"—a euphemism for being illegally detained by the authorities.
An invaluable guide to sensitive topics in modern-day China, Blocked on Weibo exposes the fissures between the idealized society that Chinese authorities dream of having and the actual one that Chinese netizens are creating each day.
About the Author
Jason Q. Ng is a research consultant for China Digital Times and a 2013 Google Policy Fellow at the Citizen Lab. His work has been featured in Le Monde, the Huffington Post, the Next Web, Asia Pacific Forum, and Shanghaiist. He writes regularly on China for Waging Nonviolence. He lives in New Jersey.
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Computers and Internet » Internet » General