China’s Microblogs Facing New Restrictions (Updated)

Cara Anna of the Associated Press reports from Beijing:

The country’s top microblogs either are down for maintenance or now display a “beta” tag to indicate they are in a testing phase, though they have been operating for months.

Users worry that the explanations are cover-ups for further restraints on speech in China, where Twitter itself is blocked. They have deluged Chinese cyberspace and the microblog operators with questions and theories about the changes.

“So the big four microblogs changed their logos to a beta version to be ‘under maintenance’?” Long Weilian, a China-based tech blogger who uses the name William Long, tweeted Wednesday. He added sarcastically, “Such a long time to figure that one out.”

Chinese officials often fear the possibility of public opinion spiraling out of control as social networking — and social protests — boom in the world’s largest Internet population. The government unplugged Twitter and Facebook last year but has allowed domestic versions to fill the void while keeping them under scrutiny.

Authorities will treat the microblogs with more severe supervision because authorities are still discussing how to manage them, Cheng Tianyu, an Internet expert with the Dadu consulting firm, told the Dongfang Daily newspaper in a report Wednesday.

Microblogs can quickly aggregate any opposition voices, which is why authorities have been increasing controls, said Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet Project at the University of California-Berkeley.

“However, given the speed and volume of microblogging content produced in Chinese cyberspace, censors are still several steps behind at this stage,” he said in an e-mail.

Update: See also: “Domestic Microblogs Cut Off from the Outside World” from ChinaGeeks:

That impact has come, at least on Sina’s Weibo service. Links to any website outside China are now blocked. Reports of this new policy spread this afternoon via Twitter, and having tested it ourselves, we can confirm that it is true. As you can see from our Sina Weibo, we attempted to post five links. The first four were to innocuous and unblocked websites outside China, including a New York Times article and the Geico Insurance Company website. All four were converted into shortened links automatically, and when clicked, they returned only an error message. However, when we tested a fifth time using a domestic link (youku.com), the shortened URL worked fine and we were directed to the Youku.

And “Stuff you can’t microblog about” from Danwei.

July 14, 2010 11:58 PM
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