In a country where the mainstream media is tightly controlled, Chinese microblogs have provided an invaluable way for millions of people to find and share unofficial information. That's obviously problematic for the Chinese authorities, who have been gradually clamping down on what they term "rumors".
Things came to a head recently when posts about an alleged political coup in the country appeared on leading microblog services Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo, resulting in both of them being punished for failing to pull the rumors fast enough. Now Sina, whose microblog service passed the 300-million user mark recently, has instituted strict rules for users, presumably in an attempt to placate the Chinese government and head off future punishments.
Interestingly, it is bringing in a variant of the "three-strikes" system that has been so controversial in the West, as China Media Project explains:
According to the regulations, users logging more than 5 posts of "sensitive information" would be prevented from posting for 48 hours and have the relevant content deleted. Further, those users posting "sensitive content" with "malicious intent" would be prevented from posting for more than 48 hours and face the possibility of having their account terminated.
As The Next Web reports, "sensitive information" covers a wide range of subjects:
Users have the right to publish information, but may not publish any information that:
Users of China's microblogging services have proved surprisingly adept at avoiding previous attempts to censor their messages. For example, the blind Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng was variously referred to as "blind man", "embassy", and "going into the light" as Chinese authorities noticed and then blocked each coded reference in turn. The new regulations specifically forbid this kind of approach:
1. Opposes the basic principles established by the constitution
2. Harms the unity, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of the nation
3. Reveals national secrets, endangers national security, or threatens the the honor or interests of the nation
4. Incites ethnic hatred or ethnic discrimination, undermines ethnic unity, or harms ethnic traditions and customs
5. Promotes evil teachings and superstitions
6. Spreads rumors, disrupts social order, and destroys societal stability
7. Promotes illicit activity, gambling, violence, or calls for the committing of crimes
8. Calls for disruption of social order through illegal gatherings, formation of organizations, protests, demonstrations, mass gatherings and assemblies
9. Has other content which is forbidden by laws, administrative regulations and national regulations.
It is not permitted to use oblique expression or other methods to get around the aforementioned restrictions
However, this probably just means that microblog users will become even more "oblique" in their techniques to route around the new forms of censorship. Short of shutting down such services completely -- a move that would probably be dangerously unpopular now that so many people use them -- it's hard to see how the Chinese authorities can ever completely stamp out this kind of inventiveness.
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