First there was what seemed to be a surprising amount of freedom on the Chinese microblogging sites that leapt up in the absence of Twitter and Fanfou. Then, this week ((Can’t see this story? Break through the GFW with a VPN from Freedur)), the four biggest microblogging services suddenly added “beta” tags to their logos, prompting Chinese users to collectively groan and brace for impact.
That impact has come, at least on Sina’s Weibo service. Links to any website outside China are now blocked. Reports of this new policy spread this afternoon via Twitter, and having tested it ourselves, we can confirm that it is true. As you can see from our Sina Weibo, we attempted to post five links. The first four were to innocuous and unblocked websites outside China, including a New York Times article and the Geico Insurance Company website. All four were converted into shortened links automatically, and when clicked, they returned only an error message. However, when we tested a fifth time using a domestic link (youku.com), the shortened URL worked fine and we were directed to the Youku.
So anything — anything — that isn’t on a Chinese website can no longer be linked via Sina Weibo. I’m not even going to comment on this one. Will it push more Chinese internet users outside the GFW in search of a microblogging experience that doesn’t pretend half of the internet doesn’t exist? Who knows.
Of course, as it means we can no longer post links to our blog (which is hosted outside China), we will no longer be using the service.
The following is a translation of a recent blog post from oft-censored activist Ran Yunfei. Having had his blogs on Tianya and Niubo shut down by web administrators for discussion of sensitive topics, Ran has taken to setting up as many blogs as possible (including an English-language blog, ‘Collection of a Gangster’s Words’) in a constant effort to stay one step ahead of the censors.
In this post, Ran talks about his feelings on microblogging, with a particular focus on the relationship between Twitter and the increasingly numerous Chinese microblogging services. He explains how the two can be used together to “demolish the tower of lies”.
Ran begins by summarising the short history of microblogging in China:
Since the birth of ‘web 2.0’ age broadcasting tools like Twitter, the Chinese internet, which lacks creativity but has a definite ability for imitation, has rolled out Jiwai, Taotao, Zuosha and other such cloned products, and has put a lot of hard work into the rapid dissemination of all sorts of information […]. During the “Xinjiang July 5th matter” [when racial tensions caused rioting in the northwestern province], Fanfou’s broadcasting function suddenly exploded, and was met with the strong fist of repression, and died an honourable death, signifying that a re-shuffling of Chinese microblogging had arrived. The authorities’ repression of Fanfou made the internet latecomers […] realise the collective power of the popularity of microblogging. So, […] Sina, Sougou, QQ, Netease, People’s Daily Online and others rolled out their own microblogging services, and they all took a share of the spoils.
He goes on to identify the difficulties faced by domestic microblogs in comparison to Twitter:
[…] The stream of users on the BBS of each big website is gradually being split up by blogs and microblogs, the reason being that blogs and microblogs allow more freedom, and a bolder scale of expression. But following the arrival of the cold stream of total control of the Chinese internet, complete control and screening has caused the scale of speech and expression to suffer deep repression. Twitter’s biggest difference to domestic microblogging services lies in its lack of auditing [by any organisation other than itself], its [policy of] not deleting any posts, its real freedom of speech and multi-faceted opening up; it has realised unobstructed broadcasting to the utmost. When compared with Twitter, domestic blogging services don’t seem like web 2.0 age broadcasting tools; they can only be seen as deformities of the web 2.0 age.
Ran then lays out his method for avoiding censorship. He encourages Chinese microbloggers who are able to access Twitter to use it for the exchange and storage of information, and explains how domestic microblogs can be used to broadcast this information to the masses in China:
With Twitter being blocked [by the Chinese government], and domestic microblogs self-destructing, web 2.0-age broadcasting tools have suffered heavy difficulties, and people’s right to view online information freely has been greatly encroached upon. […] [Netizens’] method is to have a fixed Twitter account and, according to their own interests, publish and broadcast information to their hearts’ content, because it’s a headquarters for the retention of data and truth. At the same time, [netizens] apply for an account on a microblog on one of the many big [Chinese] websites, and send as many governmentally-blocked truths as possible onto a microblog that does not require them to scale the Great Firewall. They needn’t fear that [the truths] may be deleted by administrators, because they [also] have an account on the most stable place for the retention of truth. You could say that they can ‘attack by charging, defend by fleeing’ [a saying meaning ‘to have an advantageous position in battle’]. In theory, unless microblog administrators close down your IP, you can apply for domestic microblog services an unlimited number of times, resiliently continuing to broadcast the truth, putting your own effort into demolishing the tower of lies.
…he elaborates on the potential of this “trickle irrigation” method, and gives real-life examples of its successful use:
[…] Twitter and domestic microblogs do not broadcast in parallel, but are more like a sealed lake that is always full of water (sealed-off Twitter) trickling into dried-up earth (domestic microblogs) to irrigate it. If you open a little trickle, there will be a furious flood, and it will soon provoke restriction, which will lead to the crack being blocked. Of course, if only very few people ‘trickle-irrigate’, the [dried-up] earth is certain to crack up, so it’s necessary for more people to use all sorts of ways to broadcast all kinds of truth onto domestic microblogs, and to use the ‘trickle-irrigation’ method to allow the truth to remain on domestic microblogs for longer. This way, we can finally make all sorts of lies spun by [the government] collapse in on themselves. […] In my opinion, it would be best if we could amass popularity of domestic microblogs, and if we can’t amass popularity, netizens can make use of the ‘micro-power’ of this trickle-irrigation, and continue to send out all kinds of information that will benefit the truthful broadcasting of information.
[…] One evening around early March, many netizens found that any news sent about Ai Weiwei [an activist best known for compiling an independent investigation into the Sichuan earthquake death toll] relating to the earthquake was being deleted from Sina’s microblog service. So that night, a large group of netizens set up tens and hundreds of microblogs focussing on Ai Weiwei, and proceeded to publish blocked information, throwing the Sina microblog staff into panic for a while. […] At the March 19 Fuzhou public security authorities’ ‘premature ejaculation’ over the unbelievable ‘three netizens case’ [three netizens who published articles and video about the fatal rape of a young girl by police officers were accused of ‘false accusations against innocent parties’, but the trial was postponed because of demonstrations at the courthouse], some Twitterers went to the scene to publish instant news, and still more continued to re-tweet the news, and incessantly forwarded that information onto domestic microblogs, so that those ‘within the wall’ could understand the truth of this matter more clearly, and let more people know the unbelievable shamelessness of the Fuzhou public security authorities. When many “carriers” sent this information onto domestic microblogs, much was deleted or screened, and some [user accounts] were even closed because of those [messages] – death in battle. But even if your domestic microblog is lost in battle, you can apply for a new one, and continue to carry out a continual and tireless work of “freighting” from sealed-off Twitter to domestic microblogs. In my opinion, Twitter is a place for the broadcasting and storage of truth, and domestic microblogs are there to spread that truth, and to die in battle. The more times your blog account is lost, the greater your effort to spread the truth. […]
He concludes with a positive outlook on the future of interaction between Twitter and domestic microblog services, encouraging Chinese people to take advantage of the internet to transform society:
The internet is a big gift from God to the human race, especially to China, but it’s a shame that when confronted with this rich and multi-faceted gift, many people are at a loss as to what to do. Because Chinese people have never received such a good gift, it has made some people lose all curiosity for digging out the gift, [as well as] all exploratory spirit, and all creativity. That is to say, after being enslaved for a long time, they have even lost all desire, confidence, toughness and strength to cast off their rotten shackles. This is the Chinese people’s grief. When facing the constant progression of the internet, some people’s eyes are seeing just as ignorantly and as powerlessly as before. There’s no harm in cautiously believing that the transformative effect that the internet has brought to Chinese society has only just begun, and the curtain has only just opened on the interaction between Twitter and domestic blogs. The best scene is yet to come.