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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Chinese Police Changed Their Mind

Recently a couple of suspended China’s microblogs went back to business as usual. The services are Sina’s Weibo.com and Tencent's t.qq – they had to ban comments on their sites. This led to a mass outcry about filtering and free speech, following online rumors of a coup in the country’s capital. 

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During the tree-day suspension, around 700 million people registered on the sites were able to post on their own profiles, while being unable to comment on anyone else’s accounts. The rumors in question were directed at a famous Communist Party figure, Bo Xilai. The authorities were quick to shut down a dozen sites and arrest 6 people believed to be related to the rumours. This move has caused both websites, which are actually the Chinese equivalents to Twitter, to take the action aimed at “cleaning up” illegal data posted on the microblogs.

Nevertheless, the services gave no further details, and it’s still unclear whether they were requested to carry out the suspension by the authorities or off their own back after being reprimanded by the government.

The Chinese newspaper, the voice of the Communist Party, mentioned in a comment last weekend that online rumours package lied as truths and changed speculation into fact. The country’s authorities will have learned that, with the web, it’s quite difficult and may even be impossible to have total control over ideas or rumours.

Meanwhile, the director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch Nick Pickles compared the filtering and new legislation that was proposed in Britain. He pointed out that this kind of censorship actually relies on the same real-time monitoring the authorities of the United Kingdom are talking about introducing in the country. At the same time, the entire world understands that privacy has always been and remains an essential element of freedom of speech.

Nick Pickles explains that once they introduce the capability to monitor, the pressure will move to control. Thus far, people have already heard Internet-blocking proposals meant to address copyright violation for instance, so the experience of Chinese people can be regarded as something that the citizens living in democracies shouldn’t disregard lightly. People are still under arrest and other services are still offline.

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