Li Puman: Fanfou, Fanfou, Can We See Fanfou?

This post is from Li Puman’s blog (李普曼), translated by CDT. Fanfou is a Chinese site similar to Twitter:

Fanfou, Fanfou, can we see Fanfou?

07/11/2009

Right now, Fanfou.com still cannot be accessed。

On that morning that upset me, I opened my eyes, the same as usual, and grabbed my cell phone to access Fanfou. Then, I got out of bed and washed my face. When I came back to check my cell phone, I saw the message that Fanfou was suspended for 10 days.

At the time, I was furious, and though I knew the reason that Fanfou was suspended, I didn’t know what to do but to be angry.

After getting to work and checking the Fanfou homepage, I discovered that only publishing information was blocked, but that sending personal messages was allowed. So I wrote to Fanfou’s founder, Wang Xing, and asked him if the site would really come back online in 10 days.

Before I got an answer, things got worse – I couldn’t even access Fanfou anymore. I didn’t know if blocking the service completely was the idea of the higher-ups or of Wang Xing, who may have decided to just go on vacation given that the site’s activities were already being limited.

Although we did not face the same kind of anti-government protests as in Iran, our government saw the power of Twitter in fostering a revolution. As a result, in the recent Urumqi, Xinjiang incidences on July 5th, the government quickly blocked Twitter, as well as Facebook. As a result, many people used Fanfou to report the current happenings and news from Urumqi.

It’s worth noting that we in China were only trying to understand the situation, not like in Iran, where everyone on Twitter was opposed to the government. We were only thirsty for the latest news that Fanfou could provide, because we don’t totally trust our domestic media.

On the night before Fanfou was blocked, I was surfing around on Fanfou. Occasionally, I saw a message from Wang Xing: To be “harmonized” by Fanfou or was Fanfou “harmonized?”

I know that he (Wang Xing) has faced a lot of pressure this year. Even before June of this year, Fanfou had become a center of political activity. Many people came to Fanfou to discuss politics. But in China, this type of activity is dangerous. You can talk about men, women, and even sex. But you can’t talk about politics. The Celestial Kindom hopes we can live in a blissful state while becoming evermore ignorant. They don’t think we can discover the reality behind this Eden.

Therefore, in the years since Fanfou was launched, the number of users coming to the site to discuss politics has continued to grow. It has surpassed both digu.com and jiwe.com in popularity, but has also received the unwelcome attention of some mysterious government agencies.

In China, the political media faces only two choices: being “harmonized”, or self-harmonizing your own content. In fact, Fanfou was already taking the initiative of self-harmonization. Before its service was cut off, it had already prohibited searching for the keyword, “Urumqi,” and also voluntarily deleted all related news and information. But Fanfou still could not stop users from discussing this issue. When it tried to restrict discussion and searches of Urumqi-related news, people replaced the keyword “Urumqi” with the keyword “Ur-event” and were able to continue discussions.

Compared with traditional forums and blogs, the cost of sending news on Fanfou is very low. Regardless of whether you use Fanfou’s website, it’s software, or some 3rd party application, any few words you write can become widely broadcast news.

But compared with the cost of broadcasting on Fanfou, the monitoring cost is very high. On the one hand, you can prohibit one keyword (“Urumqi”), but as soon as you do, a new keyword (“Ur-event”) nimbly appears. If you try to prohibit “Ur-event”, people can switch words again, and continue to discuss the matter without affecting people’s understanding.

Fanfou’s information flow is so great, though I don’t have all the details. But the amount of news is definitely greater than sina.com, qq.com,and these kinds of websites. People can update their news anywhere anytime. With only 5 or 6 staff, Fanfou cannot control what happens on its site.

Perhaps, cutting off service is the best approach. If Fanfou cannot become harmonious, then it should be made harmonious.

I have no remedies for this. In this environment, it’s an unavoidable choice.

Now I only care about this question: since the events in Urumqi have essentially been stabilized, when will Fanfou return? Will we still be able to Fanfou?

July 15, 2009 8:03 PM
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