Blocked on Weibo: Censored Searches of China's Largest Microblogging Service
March 14, 2012 12:03 PM   Subscribe

The fact that Chinese internet access is censored and monitored is not new, but Sina Weibo (新浪微博, literally "Sina Microblog,"), handles the task differently. Commonly referred to by the generic name Weibo, the social service that is likened to Twitter and Facebook is more open in what you can post, but searches for certain words are blocked. Without context, a list of blocked searches is fairly abstract. Blocked on Weibo adds translations and context to the blocked words. [via mefi projects]

As of yesterday, 384 words are blocked, including 遊行 (parade or demonstration/march / yóuxíng; political gathering), 恋足 (foot fetish / liànzú; sexually "perverse" word/act), and Hoobastank (because of "stank," due to its connotations of licentiousness).

Censored searches don't mean that Weibo isn't immune to direct censorship, as reported by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science who analyzed millions of Weibo posts. And the March 16 identity verification deadline is looming, which could cause the social-site giant to lose a significant portion of its users.

People get around censorship by using "resistance discourse," terms like scaling the wall, buying soy sauce, fifty cents, a mild collision, May 35, Mayor Lymph, river crab, and of course, the grass-mud horse.
posted by filthy light thief (14 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
It makes me tear up a little bit to be able to freely say "allergic rhinitis" on the Internet, but then again that might just be a symptom of my allergic rhinitis.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 12:32 PM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

"怯口活 Cowardly mouth live"

Save your efforts, Chinese person searching for that. The album is great, but they're pretty unimpressive live. The last time I saw them, the lead singer was so drunk he could barely stand, the bassist and rhythm guitar guys were clearly unprepared and and the drummer OD'd during the set.
posted by griphus at 12:59 PM on March 14, 2012

"Blocked on Weibo" is really interesting and a useful project; thanks for posting it.
posted by languagehat at 1:44 PM on March 14, 2012

Lucky ☆ Star????
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 2:29 PM on March 14, 2012

幸運☆星 Lucky ☆ Star
食物敏感 Food allergies

Why would they block these things?
posted by dragoon at 3:07 PM on March 14, 2012

I presume 怯口活 (which AFAIK is a technique in traditional crosstalk comic stand-up of mimicking misunderstandings due regional accents and dialects for laughs) gets blocked because the last two characters alone (口活) are slang for blow-job ('mouth work/job'). Though it could be used for something else althogether, I can't keep up with the kids these days.
Great project, thanks for drawing attention to it!
posted by Abiezer at 4:44 PM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Abiezer: blocked because the last two characters alone ...

As noted in the "searches for certain words are blocked" link, there is indeed an issue of the Scunthorpe problem*, or false positives due to broad blocking rules of short phrases or words.

* The problem was named after an incident in 1996 in which AOL's dirty-word filter prevented residents of the town of Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire, England from creating accounts with AOL, because the town's name contains the substring cunt. Years later, Google's filters apparently made the same mistake, preventing residents from searching for local businesses that included Scunthorpe in their names.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:14 PM on March 14, 2012

What a thorough post FLT! Couldn't have done it better myself. Thanks all for the kind words. Hopefully I'll be able to keep it up.
posted by jng at 7:34 PM on March 14, 2012

And praise from languagehat for my blog about words??? Heh, I think I might swoon.
posted by jng at 7:36 PM on March 14, 2012

jng, your blog is great. As you might have noticed from my past posts, I tend to (over) embellish posts, and I fear that I've buried your blog a bit.

If I have your attention for a moment, what have you read about the requirement for Weibo users to verify themselves? Is this only on Sina Weibo, or other weibo sites?
posted by filthy light thief at 8:25 PM on March 14, 2012

Not a worry, just glad those who saw it got a kick out of it. The figures that I've seen floating around are that 60% of those on Sina Weibo have already verified themselves. As for other weibos, they're required to also abide by the March 16 government imposed deadline, but not sure how well they're faring. This Global Times article quotes a Tencent official (they're Sina's main rival wrt to weibo) as saying they won't reveal that info.
posted by jng at 11:00 PM on March 14, 2012

Weibo seems to be offloading the problem of real-name registration to telecom operators by allowing users to tie their accounts to their mobile phone numbers, which are in theory tied to their personal ID information. In practice this opens things up quite a lot, and Sina has basically said publicly that it will delay implementing strict real-name registration for as long as humanly possible. (Virtually every other social platform in China has said the same thing, with the exception of some dating sites.)
posted by bokane at 12:22 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

bokane, thanks for the information.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:10 AM on March 15, 2012

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