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China censors turn their sights on microblogging

Posted by Author on July 16, 2010

Reporters Without Borders, 16 July 2010 –

Reporters Without Borders
is concerned about a new crackdown on social-networking tools, especially microblogging services. Dozens of microblog accounts went down yesterday including those of blogger Yao Yuan and lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who was interviewed by the Associated Press. Four of the leading Chinese microblogging services, Netease, Sina, Tencent  and Sohu, were yesterday displaying messages saying they were down for maintenance or had inexplicably reverted to an earlier “beta” testing phase.

“This latest censorship attempt shows that the Chinese authorities, who are obsessed with maintaining political stability, mistrust microblogging and its potential for spreading information and mobilising the public,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“Nonetheless, despite the massive resources that the regime deploys to control the Internet, it is impossible to keep track of all the flow of information on Twitter and its Chinese equivalents,” the press freedom organisation added. “Microblogging is also used by the government itself as well as by millions of Chinese who have nothing to do with dissidents.”

A form of short blog with a maximum of 140 characters, microblogs are have become very popular among Chinese Internet users for disseminating social messages and opinions because of their speed and ability to grab people’s attention. Access to Twitter is blocked by the Great Firewall of China but the site is still accessible for people who know how to use proxies and other censorship circumvention tools.

China’s microblogging services are nonetheless scrutinised by censorship filters which analyse both the posts and the shortened URLs that appear in them. For example, here is a link to a recent Reporters Without Borders press release: http://fr.rsf.org/chine-les-autorites-en-croisade-contre-l-07-05-2010,37411.html. And here is an example of a shortened version of the link obtained by a link shortener such as Bit.ly that microbloggers would use because of the need to keep the message to within 140 characters: http://bit.ly/a5F8it. These shortened links are also monitored by the censors in order to block access to undesirable sites……. (more details from Reporters Without Borders)

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