Digitial Media in Repressive Regimes: How China Filters BlogsNovember 14th, 2008 — Bruce Etling
According to recent research by Rebecca McKinnon of Global Voices, the Chinese regime spends a ridiculous amount of time filtering and censoring the Internet–and relies on blog service providers to do a lot of the heavy lifting for them. Rebecca shared results from her research (soon to be released) on filtering in China at a conference put together by Berkman friends Caroline Nellemann and Ole Bruun of Roskilde University in Denmark, and hosted by the Danish Institute of Human Rights.
Rebecca carried out a study where she and a team created a number of blogs in Hong Kong and posted content that was likely to be blocked to see how blog service providers and the government censors reacted. In most cases blogs with sensitive topics were not put up but instead a message was received which showed that it needed to be reviewed, and a link with more explanation of why. She also conducted interviews with blog providers (Chinese and Western based) to understand how they censor or filter blogs. Their research revealed that the 15 blog service providers they tested are heavily involved in filtering of content on behalf of the government, and employ teams of humans to read and determine if flagged blog posts should be published or filtered. Somewhat humorous results were also found because of the automated filtering–including the filtering of the government’s own news agency.
Patrick Meier blogged in more detail about Rebecca’s talk. As Patrick writes, “In conclusion, the Great Chinese Firewall is only part of Chinese Internet censorship. Domestic censorship is not centralized. Domestic web censorship is outsourced by government to the private sector. Censorship is inconsistent and it is usually possible to post your content on one platform, for at least a while.”
I look forward to Rebecca’s write up of her reserach, and think that her methodology would be extremely useful to carry out in Iran and other countries where we want to better understand how filtering is taking place.