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Censorship China Government Social Networks The Internet The Media Your Rights Online

Chinese Censors Are Being Watched 71

Rambo Tribble writes "The Economist is reporting on two research teams, one at Harvard and another at the University of Hong Kong, who have developed software to detect what posts to Chinese social media get censored. 'The team has built up a database comprising more than 11m posts that were made on 1,382 Chinese internet forums. Perhaps their most surprising result is that posts critical of the government are not rigorously censored. On the other hand, posts that have the purpose of getting people to assemble, potentially in protest, are swept from the internet within a matter of hours.' Chinese censors may soon have to deal with an unprecedented transparency of their actions."
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Chinese Censors Are Being Watched

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @05:39PM (#40608345)

    The other first posts must have already been censored.

  • Watches the watchmen.

    But who watches those who watch the watchmen, eh?

  • Chinese censors may soon have to deal with an unprecedented transparency of their actions.

    The question remains, however: Who watches the watchers watching the censors? Those at U of Hong Kong may have to soon deal with an unprecedented amount of attention upon their actions.

    • Chinese censors may soon have to deal with an unprecedented transparency of their actions.

      Go ahead, guess how the censors are going to "deal" with transparency. I'll give you a hint: it's already their job to "deal" with transparency.

      • by clodney ( 778910 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @06:16PM (#40608679)

        If you RTFA (no really), one of the conclusions is that the goal of the censorship is to provide a form of safety value. Let the people criticize the party/government, and even let that root out corruptions and law breaking. But when the discussion turns to protest or other forms of mass action, start censoring and nip it in the bud.

        Not in favor of censorship, but I have to admit it is a pretty effective strategy.

        • by amicusNYCL ( 1538833 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @06:43PM (#40608919)

          But when the discussion turns to protest or other forms of mass action, start censoring and nip it in the bud.

          To add to that, and to show why the censors aren't shaking in their little space boots, a discussion of censorship would also trigger the censorship. This is how the censors "deal" with transparency of their actions, they hide it from The People. They don't really care if the rest of the world knows about it.

        • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @08:54PM (#40609907) Journal
          The cynic might suggest that the Chinese have caught on to the existence of 'slacktivists', who find bitching on the internet to be cathartic; but are generally quite harmless, especially if you don't bother them in their favorite hobby.

          (Says the guy whose username is 'fuzzyfuzzyfungus', on Slashdot, before no doubt going back to working for world peace or something...)
    • by siddesu ( 698447 )

      The more important question that remains is about preemptive censorship. Who can count the posts and other internet activities that don't make it into the monitoring software of the researchers because of blocking, filtering, whatever?

      As technology improves, Chinese censors may need to deal with unprecedented transparency, but the researchers will certainly have to deal with ever more effective methods of controlling the Internet. And it is not clear who will come on top in this kind of arms race, especial

    • by iserlohn ( 49556 )

      Hong Kong is different to the mainland and freedom of expression is guaranteed in the Basic Law, the mini-constitution that took effect in 1997 after the handover when it transitioned from British colonial rule to Chinese rule. The worse the government does is to erect sound-proof barriers between demonstrators and visiting communist party leaders to keep them in their little bubble.

      Whether there are repercussions (i.e. travel restrictions then they attempt to go into the mainland) for the researchers remai

  • so what (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    in america posts of copyrighted music are swept from the internet within hours. every society has a different opinion on what should be taken off the internet. china wants to prevent riots, america wants to prevent music.

    • Re:so what (Score:5, Insightful)

      by poity ( 465672 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @06:02PM (#40608565)

      Here come the false equivalencies getting +5 in a matter of hours, too.
      If you're in America, see if any of these sites are blocked
      http://thepiratebay.se/ [thepiratebay.se]
      http://www.mininova.org/ [mininova.org]
      http://isohunt.com/ [isohunt.com]
      http://www.demonoid.me/ [demonoid.me]
      http://www.torrentreactor.net/ [torrentreactor.net]
      No? Then your claim that "in america posts of copyrighted music are swept from the internet within hours" is false.

      And the audacity of equating people who want to assemble and find redress with their local governments with those who want to get free mp3s. I don't know whether to laugh or cry at this sad joke of a comparison. You'll only find naivete like this in the West. If you want to make some accurate comparisons, talk about police brutality in both countries, or maybe talk about Assange if he's ever extradited. In the meantime, get some perspective.

      • I thought Isohunt didn't allow you to download torrents from the US?

      • China doesnt block websites either, it only filters url, based on the content. In the US, you issue a DMCA (even if you do not own the copyright to the content, and you just want to censor the content) to accomplish the same.
          Please note that I am not equating the morality of these two, but only stating that we do have censorship in the US, even if not as bad as China.

      • Re:so what (Score:5, Insightful)

        by LordLucless ( 582312 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @06:40PM (#40608891)

        How about this one?
        http://megaupload.com/ [megaupload.com]

      • Just a quibble with your list of "pirate" sites: Mininova went legit a long time ago. From the usual source [wikipedia.org]:

        Mininova is a website offering BitTorrent downloads. Mininova was once one of the largest sites offering torrents of copyrighted material, but in November 2009, following legal action in the Dutch courts, the site operators deleted all torrent files uploaded by regular users including torrents that enabled users to download copyrighted material.

    • I hate copyright as much as the next Slashdotter, but there is a huge difference between commercial speech and political speech.

      I'm trying to imagine a scenario involving copyright where a political movement could be suppressed.

  • Lets see, a billion people with how many devices - try censoring that! I'm assuming they aren't using tech to do it per se but people.
    • Re:Yeah but (Score:4, Interesting)

      by tomhath ( 637240 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @06:12PM (#40608645)
      Yea, but most Chinese are far better off now than they were just a generation ago. A woman I worked with returned to her grandparents' village in China a few years ago; she thought it was unbelievably primitive - but they told her of all the improvements: a road to the village that you could ride a bicycle on instead of walking. Good water in the community well, etc. etc. Their biggest complaint was that all the younger generation had left the village for the cities to work; nobody wanted to work in the rice paddies anymore.
    • by slew ( 2918 )

      Lets see, a billion people with how many devices - try censoring that! I'm assuming they aren't using tech to do it per se but people.

      Remember, the govenment essentially controls all ISPs and Internet access points in China, those billion devices just can't go anywhere on the internet when in China. Of course in addition to the people employed to do this, the great firewall uses all the advanced tech [wikipedia.org] like deep packet inspection filters to trigger generic URL filtering, DNS poisoning, IP blocking, and TCP connection reset measures.

      They have also bullied large companies to self censor their websites as a condition to maintain their licence

  • "... have to deal with an unprecedented transparency of their actions"

    ...will be censored into oblivion within seconds instead of hours....
  • Chinese censors may soon have to deal with an unprecedented transparency of their actions.

    I kinda doubt that the Chinese government has anything to fear from these research teams.

  • by SeaFox ( 739806 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @06:07PM (#40608601)

    Perhaps their most surprising result is that posts critical of the government are not rigorously censored. On the other hand, posts that have the purpose of getting people to assemble, potentially in protest, are swept from the internet within a matter of hours.

    That's not surprising. By leaving the critical posts up the government gives the illusion they aren't as oppressive as they are on free speech. The rally to protest on the streets is a much more public thing. The last thing the Chinese government wants is another "international news incident". Keeping the revolutionaries in their parents' basements is how they do that.

    Talk is cheap, so they let it run.

    • Keeping the revolutionaries in their parents' basements is how they do that.

      Or how about keeping the counter-revolutionaries in their dorms? Mainland Chinese rich enough to have a basement are less likely to protest in public than those lliving in cramped quarters with ten other poorly fed workers. Most of the public disturbance in China appear to be triggered by poor working conditions or, less often, government abuse of ordinary citizens.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @07:10PM (#40609135)

      There is space to criticize the government in China. It's all in how you say it. Most domestic criticism is self-censored to some extent.

      I've seen it many times myself. A protester in China can usually get away with saying something along the lines of "the local party bosses are corrupt", or "this particular party policy is harmful". Anything that suggests a localized and correctable problem, but always within the confines of the Communist system. This is what successful protesters in China do these days.

      What triggers censorship, imprisonment and worse, is to suggest that the party system itself is the problem. That is what is beyond the pale in China.

      This arrangement is hardly perfect of course. However it has created a remarkable amount of space for public discourse in China, far more than those citizens have had in many decades. That political space has allowed China to grow, reform and modernize. In time I suspect that China's reforms will only grow and get more powerful.

    • by Tibixe ( 1138927 )
      If this is a plan, it's either a plan for quiet transition to free speech or a bad plan. This kind of censorship is ineffective in the long term. All this can achieve is that anti-government rioting starts not at political rallies but in excited crowds like at the fall of the Berlin Wall. Party officials seem to think that since everyone knows the CCP is corrupt, letting the speak is harmless. This is wrong because the net makes criticism of the government "common knowledge" in the game theoretic sense. Th
  • by retroworks ( 652802 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @06:45PM (#40608937) Homepage Journal
    " " - that's the posting of words which are often edited ("assembly", "protest") in baidu after baidu, tweet after tweet. A billion people sending false positives, like "assemble a sandwich" or "protest the car engine" will make it extremely difficult for the censors to see what they are blocking. (I have posted the Simplified Chinese translation of "False Positive" at the beginning of this post, but it appears to be censored).
    • The solution is to rise up, not to play along.

  • In order to stop their motions being tracked, those censors need to censor their actions by not doing them at all. That'll teach us.
  • by CuteSteveJobs ( 1343851 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @09:00PM (#40609945)
    I recently read an article in a international-edition newspaper (sorry - can't remember which) by an apologist writer for the Chinese government censorship. He claimed that the Chinese government doesn't have an issue with reporting corruption by local government officials - indeed they see this as a useful public service and a vent for the public - and so won't censor these stories, but he did say they will censor stupid rumours (sham cures for radiation) but primarily anything that might cause a public gathering to take place. (After all, that's how revolutions get started! ;-) This project will find a way to verify this, though what happened with T^2 and the blind dissident GC obviously doesn't fit his model.

    But don't pretend for a moment we are any better. The news is heavily censored everywhere, even in liberal western democracies:
    http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/18/google-getting-more-requests-from-democracies-to-censor/ [nytimes.com]

    Libel laws are a very effective way to cause self-censorship by the media:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-censorship [wikipedia.org]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_defamation_law [wikipedia.org]
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/britains-libel-laws-are-stifling-free-speech-says-un-894519.html [independent.co.uk]
    http://overland.org.au/blogs/loudspeaker/2012/03/defamation-laws-the-real-threat/ [overland.org.au]
    http://www.law.uts.edu.au/comslaw/factsheets/archivedfactsheets/freespeechanddefamationpre2010.html [uts.edu.au]
    http://www.studentatlaw.com/articles/130/1/Defamation-and-Freedom-of-Speech/Page1.html [studentatlaw.com]
    http://www.nytimes.com/1995/11/12/opinion/self-censorship-at-cbs.html [nytimes.com]
    http://www.japanlaw.info/law2003/2003_LIBEL_LAW_AND_CORRUPTION.html [japanlaw.info]

    There's also soft self-censorship too even in the US: "Sure you can print that... if you are prepared for consequences... Ah wonderful. I knew we could find common ground."
    http://rt.com/usa/news/editor-at-top-us-newspaper-resigns-over-censorship/ [rt.com]
    http://cofcc.org/2011/03/new-york-times-editor-confesses-to-censoring-information-about-black-crime/ [cofcc.org]
    http://usmediaandisrael.com/intimidation-at-the-new-york-times/ [usmediaandisrael.com]
    http://omnologos.com/watch-out-for-self-censorship-at-the-new-york-times/ [omnologos.com]

    "Tell the truth and run." - Yugoslav proverb
  • by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @09:08PM (#40610019)
    It seems interesting that Hong Kong has been very vocal recently in criticizing Beijing. In fact, it seems interesting that 1 country 2 systems has been maintained for so long with little change, especially since it is clear that Hong Kong (and Macau) has it much better than mainland China, for example, life expectancy in mainland China is only 73, in Hong Kong it is 82, nearly a decade of difference. Between the vast differences in wealth and standard of living in the 2 areas of China, I'm really surprised that those in mainland China don't rise up and demand the system that Hong Kong has. Do the Chinese not equate the system of government to the greater wealth and health of Hong Kong? Or do they simply not have the facts to compare the two?
    • Re:Hong Kong? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Malc ( 1751 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @12:39AM (#40611231)

      China's a country of over a billion a people of different ethnicities and cultures, which you can't really look at it through the lens of averages or generalisations. The difference between rural China and Shanghai is far greater than the difference between Shanghai and Hong Kong. You might as well ask: why don't the people of the US rise up and demand better when their is so low?

  • Abusive governments do not care about people liking them or not. They care about nobody organizing anything close to a resistance.
    • In China the abuse is in the culture, where almost everyone there does things in a similar way to others considered to have a lower social status. Inciting a revolution and having another group of people in power changes nothing but brings chaos and misery.

      For American people capable of exert influence there, the best way to bring changes is not to do battle on the internet, but to persuade or force the government give up indoctrination. There is still a required course in China called Marxist Philosophy, w

  • For the last 15 years I travelled 3 or 4 times a year to China for my work. (purchasing cheap stuff I can sell for high dollars in the west)
    Each trip averaged two weeks and in those trips I travel all around China.
    From HongKong to deep inside of China. I speak with high officials and with factory workers because I am intrigued by their culture.

    The Chinese government is really afraid for revolutions. They had many in their history and the Chinese people will start a new revolution if needed.
    Especially now t

  • "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?"

    learn it, post it. make it your underground battle cry

    Here in the West, we outsource all manufacturing to China. In China, they outsource all rights protections to the West.

    A curious, obviously temporary, global arrangement. The West's economy will collapse, and angry Chinese will rise up and demand their rights. Give it 10-20 years.

  • "You beat your wife, so why can't I beat mine?"

"Joy is wealth and love is the legal tender of the soul." -- Robert G. Ingersoll