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Censorship China Social Networks The Internet Science

Researchers Made a Fake Social Network To Infiltrate China's Internet Censors 49

Jason Koebler writes: In order to get inside China's notorious internet filter, Harvard researcher Gary King created his own fake social network to gain access to the programs used to censor content, so he could reverse-engineer the system. "From inside China, we created our own social media website, purchased a URL, rented server space, contracted with one of the most popular software platforms in China used to create these sites, submitted, automatically reviewed, posted, and censored our own submissions," King wrote in a study published in Science. "We had complete access to the software; we were even able to get their recommendations on how to conduct censorship on our own site in compliance with government standards."
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Researchers Made a Fake Social Network To Infiltrate China's Internet Censors

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  • by paiute ( 550198 ) on Friday August 22, 2014 @11:40AM (#47729885)
    ...and then we publicized the hell out of it to make sure that the Chinese government would see it and crack down even harder on net access. But I got to write this paper and put it on my CV.
  • by i kan reed ( 749298 ) on Friday August 22, 2014 @11:46AM (#47729973) Homepage Journal

    the Chinese government would see it and crack down even harder on net access

    Um, how, exactly?

    It's not like they're going to change their standards over this. What allowed this to happen is that the task of censorship is so time consuming and broad that the government had to outsource some of the work to the site runners.

    (Government) censorship is always top-heavy, and always relies on a degree of volunteerism from the populace. The most this researcher did is made the government a bit more paranoid about the actions of foreign nationals.

    Studying governments and cultures is an important branch of academia, and while it was ethically questionable, it's still entirely within the domain of critical examination.

  • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Friday August 22, 2014 @03:03PM (#47731895)

    If that's the ultimate censorship case for China? Air-Gapping the whole world and using its own countrywide Intranet?

    No. China is not going to do that. People in the West often misunderstand the Great Firewall of China (GFoC). It is relatively easy to bypass, and Chinese people are generally better informed about what is going on in the world than people in most other countries. Keeping information out is not really the point. In the West, there are three types of information: 1) Information that the government approves of and promotes, 2) Information that the government prohibits (child porn, holocaust denialism, videos of journalist beheadings, etc), and 3) information that the government tolerates or just doesn't care about. But in China (and many other countries) the third category doesn't exist. If people see something, and the government isn't banning it, then they assume it has the government's approval. So part of the reason for the GFoC is to say "This isn't official information". People can bypass the GFoC, and see the information, but they know the government has disapproved. Chinese people also have a very different view of dissent. in the West, toleration of dissent is a symbol of strength, and being thin skinned about criticism is viewed as weakness. When Obama lashed out at Fox News a few years ago, he was factually correct, but it still made him look small and petty. But in other countries, including China and Russia, if someone in power is criticized, and they don't fight back, they are viewed as weak. The Chinese Communist Party has no democratic mandate, and no legitimacy other than power, so they cannot afford to look weak. So the GFoC is really a symbol of strength and power rather than an attempt to actually block information.

Perfection is acheived only on the point of collapse. - C. N. Parkinson