Report on Chinese Internet Censorship- "Journey to the Heart of Internet Censorship"

A Chinese colleague recently directed me to a Reporters Without Borders report on Chinese Internet Censorship. This report is produced by an anonymous Chinese internet expert, with funding and support from Reporters Without Borders and Chinese Human Rights Defenders, with good timing in light of the Beijing Olympics. 

Having designed and implemented projects in China for more than a decade now, and experiencing firsthand the culture of censorship and control, I think that this report is pretty accurate based on my experience.  Here are some key summary points: (You can view and download the full report here at Reporters Without Borders)

  • China has always controlled all traditional media, and the Internet poses a new challenge for control. China now has more than 160 million Internet users and at least 1.3 million websites, both of which continue to grow.
  • China blocks thousands of websites, censor online news and imprisons activists. 
  • Leading actors include the 
    • Internet Propaganda Administrative Bureau (affiliated with the Information Office of the State Council, the executive office of the government), 
    • Bureau of Information and Public Opinion (affiliated with the party’s Publicity Department, the former Propaganda Department) and 
    • Internet Bureau (another Publicity Department affliate).
    • Beijing Internet Information Administrative Bureau 
    • Other secondary bodies listed in the report
  • Some methods of control include:
    • (as per the report) "a skilful mix of filtering technologies, cyberpolice surveillance and propaganda, in all of which China invests massively.", at both the national and local level
    • Government employees and University journalism students are trained vigorously, to the point of 'ideology control', while key staff of online companies (including Yahoo!) are asked to go on a propagandistic Chinese "online media trip". 
    • The government, through the Beijing Internet Information Administrative Bureau, asserts daily editorial control via a variety of ways (such as meetings, emails/SMS and directives) over leading news agencies based in Beijing. Many agencies practice self-censorship as a result. 
    • In addition to passive monitoring, especially after 2005 when the Beijing Internet Information Administrative Bureau was formed, the government actively control internet news by insisting the publication of propagandistic materials.
    • Key-word censorship (where government or self-censors use to monitor sites):
      • masked words: words replaced by an asterisk
      • sensitive words: words that need to be checked by moderators before they can be posted
      • taboo words: words that cannot be posted or isolated or appear in an article’s content.
    • Penalties that have been inflicted includes: media criticism, strict fines, dismissal of site employee, and site closure. 
    • When bloggers and others have appealed or otherwise made their plight public, they have been ignored, threatened or imprisoned. Similarly, human rights activists are imprisoned.  
  • Recommendations on eluding control
    • proxy server to to hide IP addresses, and downloading software to access foreign sites
    • exploiting the different levels of censorship between provinces or between levels in the administration and 
    • using new Internet technologies (blogs, discussion forums, Internet telephony etc.)
You can view and download the full report here at Reporters Without Borders

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