Social Media Censorship in China

In current information era, the internet has established itself as one of the most dominant and powerful forces. It dictates virtually every feature of present existence. Millions of people depend on the internet for work, interaction, business, and health reasons. One wonders how people’s life would be without the internet. The internet and especially social media can put a great deal of power in the hands of citizens. This is something majority of the governments are not ready to tolerate (Guo and Feng 35). The Chinese government demonstrated its intolerance to social media by censoring Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, YouTube and many others.

Personal experience aroused my interest in this topic. It happened after I failed to communicate with my colleagues due to the censorship. After going back to China, I could not login to Facebook, Instagram or any other social site. I got bewildered because this never happened in the United States. I decided to research on the reason for censorship from articles written by Chinese dissidents and current affairs. From all the articles that I read, I concluded that the Chinese government assertively and actively prevented its people from accessing social media to limit their capacity for political activism.

In September 2014, the Chinese government blocked Instagram. Rahman (par. 1) alleged that Instagram was censored to thwart pro-democracy activists’ effort to enlighten the public on what was happening in Hong Kong. Activists were using Instagram to transmit videos and images of the Hong Kong protest. Therefore, the government felt that continued transmission of videos and images would trigger protests in other parts of the country.

It was not the first time that the Chinese government used social media censorship to frustrate pro-democracy activists. It used to gag social media during demonstrations that sought to expose its underperformance. In Hong Kong, the protest started on a peaceful note. Students were demanding increased political independence and egalitarianism. However, it took a precarious turn after police lodged tear gas canisters on peaceful demonstrators. Images of brutal police’s response went viral in Instagram prompting its censure by the government.

From the turn of events, one may allege that the Chinese government is anti-democracy. Besides, it is always ready to use all means to ensure that the world does not learn about its inadequacies. For instance, the government always censors western social media whenever there is a significant protest or event that might expose its negative dealings.

During the 25th commemoration of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, the government blocked both Twitter and Facebook. It did not want the world to know what was happening in China at that time. The blockage signified social media censorship as the government’s strategy to cover-up its inadequacies not only from the Chinese, but also the world.

An article in Chicago Herald portrayed the diplomatic rivalry between Facebook’s agents and the Chinese government. The report showed vividly that the Chinese government did not have a genuine reason to censor Facebook (Lococo par. 3). Many Chinese complained about the censor because they were denied numerous benefits. Vaughan, who is Facebook’s vice president, claimed that majority of the Chinese were eager to know when him and his team intended to reactivate the social site. However, he was not in a position to give a precise date.

The minister for Cyberspace Administration also alleged that he could not give the exact date when Facebook would be allowed to operate in the country. China manages the internet by censoring sites that disseminate unethical contents such as pornography and betting (Lococo par. 8). However, the government is also strict on sites that criticize its activities.

The Chinese government maintains that all social sites that wish to operate in the country should abide by local rules, “Respect national sovereignty and refrain from harming China’s national interests” (Lococo par. 9). The government warns that it will not tolerate any social media that is out to hurt China. One wonders how social sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube destroy the government or harm its interests. The sites operate in many countries worldwide. However, other governments do not complain that the sites hurt them or compromise their interests.

In fact, one can only cite innumerable benefits that Facebook and other social media have on Chinese citizens. The social sites help Chinese companies to reach the global market (Lococo par. 11). Thus, they contribute to the growth of Chinese economy by opening foreign markets to local firms. Facebook has tried to defend its presence in China. However, the government has remained adamant to allow its operations.

The social site has never criticized the government. Besides, it does not disseminate contents that may harm the public. Instead, the public uses the site to interact, do business, learn about the current affairs and share their democratic opinions. It is evident that the Chinese government does not want people to enjoy democratic freedom that Facebook provides.

Brown alleges “The Great Firewall of China is one of the wonders of the modern world” (par. 1). China uses innumerable censors to make sure that no information that “endangers” the government is published on social media. People are allowed to say anything as long as it does not trigger any form of action. In some cases, Chinese publish articles that criticize the government without being censored. However, if they happen to incite people to participate in demonstrations or talk about the protest in Hong Kong, the information is removed from social sites. Besides, no article that criticizes government leaders or policies is allowed on social sites.

In China, truth is deemed as dangerous. Therefore, the Chinese government works in a fog of falsehoods. It does not tolerate any message that might spur activism no matter how correct it may appear. Chinese are free to write about any protest taking place in the country (Brown par. 5). However, they are not allowed to discuss it in social media. The government holds that discussing a dissent on social media may sway its course or provoke people.

Thus, in China, people have liberty to talk about almost anything but are silenced by clandestine threats. One doubts how social sites like WeChat, Pengyou, and Sina Weibo are not threats to the country. The government has allowed the sites to operate as a way to justify its actions. Through the three sites, the government can limit access to democratic western online space, and more intimately screen its people.

Although the government allows Sina Weibo, Pengyou, and WeChat to operate, cases of message deletion are rampant. For instance, Sina Weibo reports complaints of message deletion on regular basis (Bamman, O’Connor and Smith 76). Besides, there have been claims of revealed memos from the government directing Sina Weibo to scrap all information relating to certain events or keywords.

For instance, Sina Weibo was instructed to remove all information relating to the Wenzhou train crash. In addition, Sina Weibo’s chief executive officer admitted that the company uses over 100 censors. An analysis of the site’s system found that it filters or deletes at least 16.25% of all information transmitted through the site. The site deletes all messages containing the terms resignation, two meetings and Fang Binxing (Bhuiyan par. 4). The terms are considered sensitive and ones that can trigger rebellion.

The government’s step to block Gmail demonstrated its determination to control and influence what happens on social media platform (Bamman, O’Connor and Smith 78). Business people have used Gmail to relate to their clients outside and within China for many years. However, in December last year, many business persons were unable to reach their customers. Google Company inspected its system for technical problems and said that it was in good condition. The company complained that majority of its services were deeply disturbed in China. The repress of Gmail came as a surprise to many people.

China is renowned for its complicated internet censorship technology. Critiques argue that China aims to establish an internet cutoff from other countries. While people might have been using other social sites to incite or propagate political issues, many have been using Gmail for official communication. People do not use Gmail for political matters. In fact, many Chinese use it to communicate with business partners. Others use it to contact friends and for academic purposes.

Its disruption was a major setback to many companies in China, which use Gmail for business email system. When contacted, the Chinese government said that it had no information about Gmail blockage. The government reiterated its commitment to offering a stable business environment for multinational companies and foreign investors. Having been in the United States where people are free to communicate through social media, it is hard for one to stay in China. It is difficult for people to keep in touch or do business in the country.

A study by King, Pan and Roberts found that the Chinese censorship may be more discriminative than many people thought. They claimed that it was known worldwide that the Chinese government censors social media. Many people held that the government discriminates against contents that are critical and anti-government (King, Pan and Roberts 7). However, a study by King, Pan and Roberts proved otherwise. According to them, Chinese leaders are determined to protect their posts of authority (King, Pan and Roberts 11). The primary threat to these posts is the citizens.

Hence, the leaders recognize that if people are given a chance to interact freely on social media, they might jeopardize their authority. Thus, instead of focusing on eliminating every bit of disapproval and condemnation present on social sites, the leaders concentrate on gagging people or contents that request others to rally not taking into consideration whether they are for or against the government.

Chinese use social media to voice their unhappiness with the state. However, the government does not take them seriously (King, Pan and Roberts 13). It mainly focuses on people who call on others to rise against the regime. Rather than focusing on criticism, the government is more concerned with contents that mobilize people to actions.

The Chinese government may have managed to censor social sites, but not virtual private networks (Xu 4). Virtual private networks (VPN) comprise numerous remote routers, which are linked to other systems through tunnels. They are created in a way that the Great Firewall cannot detect them. Other Social sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, are hard to maneuver the Great Firewall.

Institutions that use virtual private network have always ensured that they are one step ahead of the Chinese government (Xu 4). For instance, while other social sites do not access South China Morning Post, it is accessible through virtual private network.

Many people rely on the internet for business, health reasons and socialization. Hence, it is hard to imagine how life would be if governments banned the use of internet worldwide. The internet and especially social media bestows power on the public. However, many governments do not tolerate it. The Chinese government showed its prejudice against social media by repressing Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. The government censored Instagram to thwart pro-democracy activists’ endeavor to enlighten the public on Hong Kong demonstration.

Besides, it has demonstrated its commitment to editing all contents that might trigger mass action. The censorship may be more discriminative than many people thought. While many people believe that the Chinese government focuses on materials that are anti-government, research has shown that it concentrates on messages that may cause political unrest. The government may have managed to censor social sites, but not virtual private networks. The networks are designed in a way that the Great Firewall cannot detect them. Hence, virtual private network is the only system that is immune to censure in China.

Works Cited

Bamman, David, Brendan O’Connor and Noah Smith. “Censorship and deletion practices in Chinese social media.” First Monday 17.5 (2012): 75-99. Print.

Bhuiyan, Johana. “Chinese Social Media Censorship may be More Selective than Previously Thought.” BuzzFeed News., 2014. Web.

Brown, Andrew. “How the Chinese Regime Uses Web Censorship to Strengthen the State.” The Guardian., 2014. Web.

Guo, Steve and Guanghao Feng. “Understanding support for internet censorship in China: an elaboration of the theory of reasoned action.” Journal of Chinese Political Science 17.1 (2014): 33-52. Print.

King, Gary, Jennifer Pan and Margaret Roberts. “How Censorship In China Allows Government Criticism But Silences Collective Expression.” American Political Science Review 107.1 (2013): 1-18. Print.

Lococo, Edmond. “Facebook Says China Consumers Want Service.” Chicago Daily Herald., 2014. Web.

Rahman, Abdi. “Instagram Blocked in China as Pro-Democracy Protests Continue in Hong Kong.” The hollywoodreporter., 2014. Web.

Xu, Beina. Media Censorship in China. 2014. Web.

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