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Watching the watchmen
March 13, 2013 8:25 AM   Subscribe

Weibo, China's most popular microblogging website, is manually censored for "impropriety" and political content. By observing the time taken for censored posts to disappear, researchers have exposed some of the the working patterns and methods of the censors.

Original paper: arXiv:1303.0597.

Weibo censorship previously on MetaFilter.
posted by Pre-Taped Call In Show (17 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Their analysis relies on the fact that censored and self-deleted posts currently return distinct error messages. I wonder how long that will last.
posted by Pre-Taped Call In Show at 8:26 AM on March 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


The censors aren't the only ones who find their energy levels sapping during the seven o'clock national news. That was an interesting snippet though; does it suggest they're 'amateur' Party members who have to watch to keep abreast of the latest lines?
posted by Abiezer at 8:40 AM on March 13, 2013


This sort of censorship seems so... crude. I imagine that, within a few decades, China will evolve into a system like ours where the communications of its citizens are simply ignored by anyone that actually has real power.
posted by Palquito at 8:42 AM on March 13, 2013 [13 favorites]


I imagine that, within a few decades, China will evolve into a system like ours where the communications of its citizens are simply ignored by anyone that actually has real power.

I think the path is by becoming more able to co-opt counter-elites.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:47 AM on March 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't quite get the point of tracking this and making presumptions on how they do it. We all can agree the Chinese government is censoring their citizens. Why bother to try to back into the how?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:06 AM on March 13, 2013


Hey, neat.

Now do LiveJournal.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:25 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


It never occurred to me that this was mostly being done by humans. I wonder if anyone could do counter-censorship by spamming the everloving crap out of Weibo and distracting the censors with things that are just sensitive enough to need actual human attention without triggering the auto-censor.
posted by capricorn at 9:36 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think they need to assume that this is done by humans (especially not 4200 of them). They have good programmers, too, and could easily build in some heuristic filters to catch most of them. I work for a heavily moderated kid's website, and we only employ a few dozen moderators for a similar volume (we "look" at every free text field on the site)

In regards to spamming to get past it, I'm sure their automated filter (as ours does) errs on the overzealous side. After all, there's a certain value in having the users know that they're being watched even for relative non-offenses.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 9:52 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think they need to assume that this is done by humans (especially not 4200 of them). They have good programmers, too, and could easily build in some heuristic filters to catch most of them.

The Chinese populace is quite practiced at substituting homonyms, rhymes, and other ciphers to avoid triggering forbidden-word detectors.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:10 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


This sort of censorship seems so... crude. I imagine that, within a few decades, China will evolve into a system like ours where the communications of its citizens are simply ignored by anyone that actually has real power.
posted by Palquito at 8:42 AM on March 13 [8 favorites +] [!]


This doesn't make sense. Members and institutions of China's modern political elite have long been well capable of ignoring and/or manipulating and/or censoring public opinion/communications when it needs to. And like Western political elites in the US and elsewhere, its members and institutions also often have to listen to, and respond (positively or negatively) to public opinion/citizen communications. If you are totally cynical and don't believe in politicians having good motives, then you still have to consider factionalism, patronage, and popular legitimation within political elites which often thrive off of "being seen to serve the citizens".

What this post is highlighting is the massive , ubiquitious censorship monitoring and intervention by the Chinese government/ruling party into ordinary online communications amongst its citizens. This doesn't happen (ok, as far as we know, but where's the evidence?) in Western liberal democracies even when considering censorship actions directed towards extraordinary exceptions such as e.g. child porn, Nazi-related content in some European countries, military secrets etc.

This is not a "crude" form of totalitarian censorship that will be made redundant by adopting liberal democracy's "advanced" means of information and communication control. It is an advanced form of a system based on different political values and philosophies about what citizenship means altogether.
posted by Bwithh at 10:49 AM on March 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


Cool. Now somebody do this for the Android Market/Google Play Store or iTunes.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:53 AM on March 13, 2013


Bwithh, I think your Tongue-in-Cheek (tm) detector is broken. Though I am extraordinarily cynical, and become more so with each passing day.
posted by Palquito at 11:02 AM on March 13, 2013


It puzzles me what people think they gain by censoring speech in this fashion, or banning books, or whatever. It's not like the information miraculously goes away, or people stop talking about it.
posted by maxwelton at 2:01 PM on March 13, 2013


I don't quite get the point of tracking this and making presumptions on how they do it. We all can agree the Chinese government is censoring their citizens. Why bother to try to back into the how?

So that Stephen Conroy can learn from their mistakes and design a better Internet filter.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:24 PM on March 13, 2013


Their analysis relies on the fact that censored and self-deleted posts currently return distinct error messages. I wonder how long that will last.

There's kind of an assumption in there that they don't want people to know when something's been censored. Along the lines of what Bwithh said, they quite possibly don't care, or may even prefer that people know when someone's been censored.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:00 PM on March 13, 2013


Speaking of censorship: Sky News Reporter Detained By Chinese Police During Live Report
posted by homunculus at 5:19 PM on March 15, 2013


A giant cage: The internet was expected to help democratise China. Instead, it has enabled the authoritarian state to get a firmer grip, says Gady Epstein. But for how long?

Born on the fourth of June*: What China's online censorship systems block
posted by homunculus at 12:16 PM on April 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


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