Category Archives: internet

“Ai Weiwei bemoans block on his ‘Gangnam’ parody”

I’m not really sure what to make of this one. A few days ago Ai Weiwei released a video of himself and his friends jumping and dancing to the tune of Gangnam Style, with clips from the original video spliced in with footage from Ai’s studio. Honestly, it seemed pretty low-effort by Ai’s standards, and was almost disappointing given the possibilities of what Ai could do with that song and idea if he put some time in.

On the other hand, Reuters is now reporting that China went on a censorship spree to take the video down and delete all references to it from the Chinese net. I feel like that almost redeems the video- if the most bland, inoffensive statement ever made gets pulled down, and of a song and video that are all over the airwaves already in China at that, then the censors have come out looking unusually ridiculous, even for them.

Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei criticized the government on Thursday for removing from Chinese websites his parody of Korean pop sensation Psy’s Gangnam Style video.

Ai, a world-renowned artist and China’s most prominent dissident, and staff of his company performed Psy’s famous horse dance in his Beijing studio and posted the video late on Wednesday to Chinese sites such as “Tudou”, the equivalent of the blocked YouTube site.

Ai, 55, called the video “Caonima”. “Caonima” means “grass mud horse” but the word, which sounds like a very crude insult, has also been taken on by Chinese Internet users, and by Ai himself, and featured in postings mocking the government’s online controls.

“We only filmed for a bit over 10 minutes but we used a whole day to edit, and eventually put it online at midnight,” Ai told Reuters.

“After we had uploaded it, a few hours later … we found that a lot of people, tens of thousands, had already watched it. Now, in China, it has already been totally removed, deleted entirely, and you can’t see it in China,” Ai said.

“Overall, we feel that every person has the right to express themselves, and this right of expression is fundamentally linked to our happiness and even our existence,” Ai said.

“When a society constantly demands that everyone should abandon this right, then the society becomes a society without creativity. It can never become a happy society.”

On the one hand, there wasn’t much creativity being exercised in Ai’s video… but on the other hand, it still got deleted, so Ai was proven right in spite of himself almost.

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“How China’s “Reincarnation Party” Takes Aim at Online Censors”

Liz Carter from Tea Leaf Nation on ‘reincarnated’ online accounts in China, which seem to be becoming something of a badge of honor:

Account deletion is one of the harshest forms of censorship on Sina Weibo, as it not only silences expression but severs genuine connections between users who have dedicated a large portion of their free time to sharing and storing the details of their lives online. This threat, in turn, brings about a degree of self-censorship that is impossible to quantify, but also inspires unique and creative ways to comment on controversial issues.

In the event of Weibo account deletion, however, netizens still have a solution: re-registration. The process is known in Chinese as “reincarnating,” or joining the “Reincarnation Party.”

So persistent and pervasive is the Reincarnation Party that it has its own entry in Baidu Baike, Baidu’s answer to Wikipedia, which defines the group as “those users who register new IDs after having their accounts deleted or posting privileges revoked for long periods of time. They add a number to indicate how many times they have reincarnated, such as ‘Life2‘[二世] or ‘Life3’[三世], after their original names to protest [the censorship].”

The phenomenon of the Reincarnation Party may not defeat online censorship all by itself, but it provides one window into the way ordinary netizens are pushing back creatively against the silencing of expression.

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“How Weibo Is Changing China”

Mary Kay Magistad of Yale Global on how Chinese Twitter is changing the rules of the game:

It was the last straw for Shanghai graduate student Wu Heng, when he heard that restaurants near him were using toxic chemicals to make pork taste like beef. He started a food-safety blog out of his dorm room in January. In April, he got 10,000 hits. In May, he got 5 million.

“Word spread on Weibo,” he says with a grin.

Food safety is but one of the hot-button issues that have raised a public outcry on Weibo, providing a new source of public pressure on the government. A similar outcry came last summer after a high-speed train crash killed 40 people, just days after the expensive and high-profile project was rushed into service. Weibo comments mocked official excuses and attempts to cover up bad management.

“This is unprecedented in Chinese history,” says Kaiser Kuo, the director of Corporate Communications at Baidu.com, the leading Chinese search engine. “There’s never been a time when there’s been a comparably large and impactful public sphere. It’s now driving, in many ways, the entire national dialogue.”

Wang Chen, who heads China’s State Internet Information Office, has said that Weibo and other microblogs should “serve society,” and not threaten public security.

Exactly what does threaten public security is open to interpretation, and Sina and other microblog providers are expected to interpret broadly as they exercise censorship on behalf of the government. Critical comments are wiped away; entire Weibo accounts are sometimes deleted. Popular blogger Isaac Mao had 30,000 followers when his account was closed in June. He’d written a comment criticizing China’s space program as a waste of money.

And lest ordinary citizens think they can get creative in their own political uses of Weibo – Anti has his doubts.

“You can’t use Weibo to organize a social movement,” he says. “Because as soon as you use the word ‘gather,’ the keyword would get picked up, and the warning would be sent to the local police station. So even before you gather at the restaurant, you’ll already have the police there. I call it Censorship 2.0.”

Still, Chinese Weibo users are using what Baidu’s Kaiser Kuo calls “delightful creativity” in using homonyms, puns and wordplay to get messages across. Those who want to post longer, edgier messages often post them as photos, to get around both censors and the word limit. Kuo says social media companies are left to balance between following the law and letting the virtual public square that’s their customer base thrive.

“Internet companies in China serve two masters,” he says. “They need to keep users happy, and none of them labor under the illusion that people prefer censored search results…. We are obliged to obey the law in China. And we are also compelled to explore the elasticity of our boundaries.”

Many a Chinese Weibo user is doing exactly that, transforming the relationship between Chinese citizens and their government.

“Before, it was very much one-way communication; the government disseminated information to the public” says environmentalist Ma Jun, whose Beijing-based Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs runs a popular website that maps, names and shames polluting factories around China. “But Weibo is different. It’s created, for the first time, a sort of equal two-way communication.”

That doesn’t mean democracy is about to break out. Ma says, for all the heady change Weibo has brought in its first three years, civil society in China is still in its infancy.

“For thousands of years, this country was ruled top down, and it doesn’t have a long tradition of transparency or public participation in decision making,” he says. “Now, it’s quite a critical moment, because the country is facing all these challenges. The environmental challenge is just one of them. There are many other social challenges. If we want to go through these smoothly, there’s an increasing understanding that the government alone cannot fully micromanage all these challenges. It needs the society to help.”

An increasingly vocal and growing Chinese middle-class is proving itself willing, even insistent, on playing that role – and a 3-year-old called Weibo is making it ever harder for the government to ignore those voices.

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“Chinese netizens celebrate “Tweet Deletion Festival”

From Shanghaiist, the Chinese reaction to World Press Freedom Day:

Yesterday I sent out a few tweets on Tencent Weibo, and this morning when I woke up, I found I could not log into my account anymore. It just so happens that today is World Press Freedom Day. Time to celebrate.
-Murong Xuecun

It’s World Press Freedom Day, but in just one morning, I’ve already received five tweet deletion notices on Sina Weibo. Today in history: The United Nations General Assembly declared May 3 to be World Press Freedom Day in a decision on 20 Dec 1993. Weibo is supposed to be a free media, and on this World Press Freedom Day, any tweet regarding Chen Guangcheng is deleted. What press freedom is there to speak of?
-Liu Xiaoyuan

For the world, today is World Press Freedom Day. For China, today is World Press Freedom Day。 But because the media in China is way too free, the two different days are different. Hearty congratulations to China for being ranked 187th among the 197 countries for press freedom by Freedom House. We actually managed to beat North Korea.
-Ran Yunfei

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“China’s censorship can never defeat the internet”

Ai Weiwei writing in The Guardian:

Chairman Mao used to say: “As communists we gain control with the power of the gun and maintain control with the power of the pen.” You can see propaganda and the control of ideology as an authoritarian society’s most important task. Before the internet, all people could do was watch TV or read the People’s Daily. They would carefully read between the lines to see what had happened. Now it is very different. The papers try to talk about things, but even before they appear, everyone has talked about it on the internet.

But since we got the net and could write blogs – and now microblogs – people have started to share ideas, and a new sense of freedom has arisen. Of course, it varies from silly posts about what you’ve had for breakfast to serious discussions of the news but, either way, people are learning how to exercise their own rights. It is a unique, treasured moment. People have started to feel the breeze. The internet is a wild land with its own games, languages and gestures through which we are starting to share common feelings.

But the government cannot give up control. It blocks major internet platforms – such as Twitter and Facebook – because it is afraid of free discussion. And it deletes information. The government computer has one button: delete.

But censorship by itself doesn’t work. It is, as Mao said, about the pen and the gun. At midnight they can come into your room and take you away. They can put a black hood on you, take you to a secret place and interrogate you, trying to stop what you’re doing. They threaten people, your family, saying: “Your children won’t find jobs.”

China may seem quite successful in its controls, but it has only raised the water level. It’s like building a dam: it thinks there is more water so it will build it higher. But every drop of water is still in there. It doesn’t understand how to let the pressure out. It builds up a way to maintain control and push the problem to the next generation.

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“Weibocalypse!”

The government announced this a long time ago, but I’m still surprised it’s actually coming to fruition (via Shanghaiist):

The Weibo accounts hosted by Sina, Sohu, NetEase and Tencent will require real name and ID number registration from all users by March 16th, with unregistered users to be denied posting and forwarding capabilities. The announcement was made at the Beijing Weibo Development Management Regulations Seminar held today in Beijing.

Users who don’t register will still be able to view other accounts. For users who do register, there are reassurances that real names will be kept secret with Weibo hosts, and will not be viewable by other users on Weibo.

Nah, they’ll just be viewable by the PSB office that would like to invite you over to ‘have tea.’ We’ll see exactly how much of a chilling effect this exerts on the freest speech China has to offer.

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“Twitter Wins New Fans Over Censorship”

Amidst all the complaints, Twitter seems to have made a few fans (via WSJ):

“It is impossible to have boundless freedom, even on the Internet and even in countries that make freedom their main selling point,” read an editorial published Monday on the English-language website of the Global Times. “The announcement of Twitter might have shown that it has already realized the fact and made a choice between being an idealistic political tool as many hope and following pragmatic commercial rules as a company.”

Beijing-based investor and Chinese Internet watcher Bill Bishop told China Real Time on Friday that he doubted Twitter was making a play for China, saying the company would have to be “incredibly naïve” to think it could compete in a market already saturated with microblogging services that had earned the trust of the government. The main question, Mr. Bishop said, was whether Chinese state media would seize on the announcement as evidence of the need for Internet censorship.

He didn’t have to wait long for an answer.

In its editorial, Global Times, a nationalist-leaning tabloid published by Communist Party flagship newspaper People’s Daily, described selective censorship as “normal practice” and “a necessary step in the evolution of Twitter.” It’s important for Twitter “to respect the cultures and ideas of different countries so as to blend into local environments harmoniously,” the paper added.

Are they just trying to troll Twitter? Getting Global Times behind you is just giving more ammo to the backlash movement.

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