As in 1957, 1966 and 1989, Chinese intellectuals are feeling more or less the same fear as one does before an approaching mountain storm. The scariest [fear] of all is not being silenced or sent to prison; it is the sense of powerlessness and uncertainty about what comes next… It’s as if you are walking into a minefield blindfolded.
Hao Qun, as quoted in The Guardian. China Tries to Rein in Microbloggers.
The News, via The Guardian:
China has launched a new drive to tame its boisterous microblogging culture by closing influential accounts belonging to writers and intellectuals who have used them to highlight social injustice.
The strict censorship of mainstream media in China has made social media an essential forum for public debate, but authorities have shown increasing determination to control it. Previous campaigns have warned the public against spreading rumours – a theme that has recurred in this crackdown – and ordered users to register with their real names.
Now attention has turned to the country’s opinion formers. A recent commentary in the state-run Global Times newspaper warned that “Big Vs” – meaning verified accounts with millions of followers – had become “relay stations for online rumours” and accused them of “harming the dignity of the law”.
Somewhat Related: The South China Morning Post reports that the central government has ordered universities to stop teaching seven subjects, among them civil rights, press freedom and the communist party’s past mistakes.
Information is an existential threat to these regimes.
James Lewis, a cybersecurity expert, to the Wall Street Journal. Chinese Hackers Hit U.S. Media.
Yesterday we noted that the hackers in China have infiltrated the New York Times’ computer systems.
Today, the Wall Street Journal reports that it — along with Reuters and Bloomberg among others — has also been hacked:
Chinese hackers for years have targeted major U.S. media companies with hacking that has penetrated inside newsgathering systems, several people familiar with the response to the cyberattacks said. Tapping reporters’ computers could allow Beijing to identify sources on articles and information about pending stories. Chinese authorities in the past have penalized Chinese nationals who have passed information to foreign reporters.
Journal sources on occasion have become hard to reach after information identifying them was included in emails. However, Western reporters in China long have assumed that authorities are monitoring their communications and act accordingly in sensitive cases…
…Among the targets were a handful of journalists in the Beijing bureau, including Jeremy Page, who wrote articles about the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood in a scandal that helped bring down Chinese politician Bo Xilai, people familiar with the matter said. Beijing Bureau Chief Andrew Browne also was a target, they said.
For its part, a spokesperson for the Chinese government rejects the allegation that it is behind the attacks.
UPDATE: Add the Washington Post to the list.
In recent months, a team of researchers part of Canada’s Citizen Lab have been conducting network scans of public servers in countries on almost every continent. Today, they released their findings—which appear to show that networking technology made by Blue Coat, a Silicon Valley-based company, is being used in a host of countries with questionable human rights records.
The equipment in question can serve a legitimate purpose—like filtering out spam or malware. But in the hands of an authoritarian regime it can easily be turned into a tool for monitoring users or blocking content. Citizen Lab says it found Blue Coat filtering technology capable of censorship operating in countries including Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. It also found Blue Coat technology that can be used for surveillance and tracking of Web users in Afghanistan, Bahrain, China, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey, and Venezuela.
Ryan Gallagher, Slate. Report: Silicon Valley Internet Surveillance Gear Used by Authoritarian Regimes.
Like any editor in the United States, I tweaked articles, butted heads with the sales department, and tried to extract interesting quotes out of boring people. Unlike my American counterparts, however, I was offered red envelopes stuffed with cash at press junkets, sometimes discovered footprints on the toilet seats at work, and had to explain to the Chinese assistants more than once that they could not turn in articles copied word for word from existing pieces they found online. I also liaised with our government censor…
…I was told that we could not title a coal piece “Power Failure” because the word “failure” in bold print so close to the Olympics would make people think of the Olympics being a failure. The title “The Agony and the Ecstasy” for a soccer piece was axed because agony was a negative word and we couldn’t have negative words be associated with sports. We couldn’t use the cover image I had picked out for a feature on the rise of chain restaurants, because it was of an empty bowl, and, [our censor] told me, it would make people think of being hungry and remind them of the Great Famine (a period from 1958 to 1961 when tens of millions of Chinese starved to death, discussion of which is still suppressed). Even our Chinese designers began to roll their eyes when I related this change to them, and set them to work looking for images of bowls overflowing with meat.
Eveline Chao, Foreign Policy. Me and My Censor: A reporter’s memoir of what it’s like to tell the truth about today’s China.
Chao was Managing Editor for an English-language magazine called China International Business and writes about the ins and outs of censorship in the newsroom despite, as she writes, “Business content is not censored as strictly as other areas in China, since it seems to be understood that greater openness is needed to push the economy forward and it doesn’t necessarily deal with the political issues Chinese rulers seem to find the most sensitive.”
In 2003-2004 I worked for an English-language paper in Saudi Arabia and while the censorship mechanics there are different from what Chao illustrates, her anecdotes had me nodding at their familiarity. — Michael
The internet and other social media are harder and harder to control. Smart propaganda people like they are, are going to keep finding ways to spin and doctor and frame the information that gets out. Sometimes this may include getting news out first in official media, or replacing blunt censorship with efforts to spin. But it doesn’t mean that the Party is lying down passively in front of an onslaught of free expression. And when it comes to topics that are deemed to be political threats — Tibet, Tiananmen, Falungong, multipartyism, certain issues in Party history, and things like that — then I see no prospect that the Party will change its policy of censorship and repression.
Andrew Nathan, professor of political science at Columbia University, to Index on Censorship. China will change leaders, but keep censorship.
The News: In the upcoming months China will hold its 18th Congress during which the communist party will appoint a new group of leaders. It has been expected that Xi Jinping will be become the country’s next president. However, there’s a growing mystery over where he actually is these days.