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Chinese social sites lift post-coup controls

Comment is free ... but could get you in a lot of bother

The Chinese authorities have as promised allowed social media giants Tencent and Sina to re-open their popular micro-blogging platforms to comments, although these firms could face a tough time going forward as government censors increase their scrutiny.

Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo were singled out by the Party after apparently unfounded rumours of a coup in Beijing spread via the Twitter-like services a fortnight ago.

Aside from shuttering 16 web sites and arresting six so-called ‘rumour mongers’, the authorities took action by doling out an unspecified punishment to Sina and Tencent and forcing the firms to purge their sites of any more rumours which could be deemed harmful to the State.

David Bandurski, a researcher at Hong Kong university, translated the message greeting Tencent users on Saturday on his China Media Project blog.

Users and Friends:

Recently, rumours and other illegal and harmful information spread through microblogs have had a negative social impact, and harmful information has been relatively predominant in comment sections, requiring concentrated cleansing. For this purpose, this site has decided to temporarily suspend the comment function on microblogs from 8am March 31 to 8am April 3. We express our apologies for any inconvenience.

Bandurski explained that while the message makes out as if the action has been undertaken by Tencent under its own initiative, the order undoubtedly came from the government’s Orwellian-sounding State Internet Information Office.

He added that the government-led crack down on web rumours, while portrayed as an attempt to fight for truth and accuracy, is actually the opposite.

“The underlying principal is the political control of information,” he wrote.

With a once-in-a-decade change of leadership set to take place in the Party next year, web firms like Sina and Tencent will come under increasing scrutiny from the government’s army of censors.

However, the real work of censoring content is actually left to the web sites themselves.

It has been suggested that many could find their margins squeezed ever tighter as they employ more staff to make sure content on the platforms doesn’t break increasingly strict censorship laws. ®

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