A couple of days ago Techdirt wrote about how Murong Xuecun, a well-known user of the Chinese microblog Sina Weibo with over a million followers, had his account closed down
suddenly. Murong has now written a fine article about the background to what happened
: he points out that the deletion of his account looks to be part of a larger clampdown on the use of microblogging services by well-known figures who are critical of the Chinese government. The problem for the latter is that these services are becoming a real channel for free expression and less-than-perfectly-censored information:
Individuals are silenced on daily basis, and the pool of sensitive words grows by the hour: Liu Xiaobo, Gao Xingjian, Ai Weiwei, Wei Jingsheng, Liao Yiwu, Ma Jian, Mo Zhixu, Xiao Shu … The list goes on. It now includes me, as well as two more scholars who have since been silenced: Wu Wei and Wu Zuolai, whose accounts were deleted on the morning of 13 May. Lurking in the shadows, the "relevant organs" carry out such work as part of their daily routine, and expect people to remain silent. They have perhaps failed to foresee that in the age of Weibo, their actions could trigger such a severe backlash. To this, they responded with more censorship.
Given the problems that even China is having with controlling such services, it's no surprise that other nations are getting nervous. Here's a story from the BBC about what Saudi Arabia is doing in an attempt to counter the threat from Twitter
The head of Saudi Arabia's religious police has warned citizens against using Twitter, which is rising in popularity among Saudis.
Sheikh Abdul Latif Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh said anyone using social media sites -- and especially Twitter -- "has lost this world and his afterlife".
The Saudi authorities are evidently grappling with exactly the same issues as the Chinese government:
Many Saudis have seized on Twitter as the most immediate and effective way to open little windows into a traditionally opaque society.
Recent protests in the Eastern Province have been tweeted and images of human rights activists on trial have been uploaded directly from courtrooms, challenging many taboos.
The situation in Saudi Arabia is complicated by the fact that the well-known Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bought a $300 million stake in Twitter
back in 2011. That doubtlessly explains in part the following comments he made recently using his own Twitter account
, quoted in an article from CNN:
Dear Saudi Telecommunication Authority, social media is a tool for the people to make the government hear their voices. Just thinking of blocking them is a losing war, and a way to put more pressure on the citizens
As Twitter continues to gain market share -- already standing at a massive 51% of all Internet users in Saudi Arabia according to the CNN piece -- it will be interesting to see whose view prevails there: that of the religious police or a secular prince.
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