China Fights to Tame Internet During Riots

China’s efforts to limit access to information about ethnic violence in the country, which has resulted in over 150 deaths, shows that the Internet is more difficult than traditional media to control, but not impossible. The OpenNet Initiative reports that China has completely shut off access to the Internet in Xinjiang province and blocked access to Twitter throughout the country. The New York Times also reports that links about the riots have been deleted from Fanfou, the Chinese version of Twitter, as well as popular forums such as Mop and Tianya. The Times also argues that, similar to SMS during post election violence in Kenya last year, the Internet may have helped mobilize rioters:

Internet social platforms and chat programs appeared to have unified Uighurs in anger over the way Chinese officials had handled the earlier brawl, which took place in late June thousands of miles away…photographs that appeared online after the battle showed people standing around a pile of corpses, leading many Uighurs to believe that the government was playing down the number of dead Uighurs. One Uighur student said the photographs began showing up on many Web sites about one week ago. Government censors repeatedly tried to delete them, but to no avail, he said.

‘Uighurs posted it again and again in order to let more people know the truth, because how painful is it that the government does bald-faced injustice to Uighur people?’ said the student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from the government.

A call for protests spread on Web sites and QQ, the most popular instant-messaging program in China, despite government efforts to block online discussion of the feud.

If history is any guide, the Chinese will likely ease their online restrictions when the riots end, but the cat and mouse game will continue. As Michael Wines argues:

Chinese experts clearly have studied the so-called color revolutions — in Georgia and Ukraine, and last month’s protests in Iran — for the ways that the Internet and mobile communication devices helped protesters organize and reach the outside world, and for ways that governments sought to counter them…As the Internet and other media raise new challenges to China’s version of the truth, China is finding new ways not just to suppress bad news at the source, but also to spin whatever unflattering tidbits escape its control.

In regards to the resources at China’s disposal, Jonathan Zittrain may have said it best, “Given that it’s a game of cat and mouse they could bring to bear a lot of cats if they had to.”

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One Response to “China Fights to Tame Internet During Riots”

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