Feeds

China's soft censors clamp down on micro blogs

'Weibos' riddled with 'harmful' rumours

Seven Steps to Software Security

New research by a US university has shone a little more light on the murky world of Chinese web censorship to tell us that, yes, home grown social media is policed pretty damn effectively in the People’s Republic.

In what they claim is the first study of its kind into “soft censorship” – that is, deletion of individual messages rather than the wholesale blocking of sites - researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science analysed millions of Chinese microblog, or weibo, posts to uncover which terms drew the ire of the censors.

The team collected some 57 million messages posted on the popular Sina Weibo platform from June to Septmber 2011 using a developer API. A few months later it then checked a random subset of these messages and then another subset containing known politically sensitive terms, to see which had been deleted.

According to the team, a combination of automated technology and manual labour ensures that politically sensitive terms are deleted. Some, like outlawed spiritual movement Falun Gong or human rights activists Ai Weiwei and Liu Xiaobo, are likely to be flagged straightaway while others are dependent on circumstances and context.

For example, the term 'Lianghui' is normally a legitimate reference to the meeting of the National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, but in February 2011 became used as a code word for planned protest and thus was censored, the researchers explained.

On another occasion normally acceptable references to Communist Party hero Jiang Zemin were censored after rumours of his death circulated in early July 2011.

At the height of the rumours, the researchers compared mentions of his name on Sina Weibo – one in every 5,666 – with the Chinese language version of Twitter – one in 75 tweets – to highlight that messages were indeed being deleted.

They added that the authorities focus particularly on areas of known political unrest such as Tibet, where half of all messages generated locally were deleted during the research period.

The report continues that not all censored content is political, with the authorities also cracking down on web rumours of contaminated salt following the Japanese nuclear incident at Fukushima.

If anything, the research is notable for proving that state censorship of the web in China is not yet completely 100 per cent effective. Although the Great Firewall does a pretty good job of blocking sites on the blacklist, some weibo messages are still slipping under the censor's radar, although it will surely not be long before that is righted.

The government's latest ploy to discourage the posting of any controversial content is to mandate that users sign up to weibo accounts with their real names - something Sina thinks could lose it 40 per cent of its punters.

Under Hu Jintao’s leadership the country has seen a definite online crack down on free speech, with regular purges of web sites deemed to be hosting fraudulent, pornographic or "harmful" content.

This came most notably in November 2011 when first China’s major tech companies were bullied into encouraged to remove any content deemed harmful to the state, and then journalists were given strict reporting guidelines designed to discourage them from reporting on stories circulating on social media.

Twitter is of course well placed to enter the Chinese market should the government deem it fit after launching functionality which allows tweets to be blocked at a country level if they don’t conform with local laws. ®

Mobile application security vulnerability report

More from The Register

next story
Yorkshire cops fail to grasp principle behind BT Fon Wi-Fi network
'Prevent people that are passing by to hook up to your network', pleads plod
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
Mozilla fixes CRITICAL security holes in Firefox, urges v31 upgrade
Misc memory hazards 'could be exploited' - and guess what, one's a Javascript vuln
NEW, SINISTER web tracking tech fingerprints your computer by making it draw
Have you been on YouPorn lately, perhaps? White House website?
LibreSSL RNG bug fix: What's all the forking fuss about, ask devs
Blow to bit-spitter 'tis but a flesh wound, claim team
BMW's ConnectedDrive falls over, bosses blame upgrade snafu
Traffic flows up 20% as motorway middle lanes miraculously unclog
Attackers raid SWISS BANKS with DNS and malware bombs
'Retefe' trojan uses clever spin on old attacks to grant total control of bank accounts
Manic malware Mayhem spreads through Linux, FreeBSD web servers
And how Google could cripple infection rate in a second
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.