Weibo Censors Difficult To Detect

For Tea Leaf Nation, Jason Ng claims that Sina Weibo’s censorship has become increasingly opaque in the past months with the reduction of keyword blocks that allow one to easily discern banned search terms.  Now, users can find previously banned terms like Xi Jinping or even June 4th, but the search yields “sanitized” results.  Further, Ng reports that if users outside of China search for these terms, they may experience an error message instead of access to the list of filtered results:

Whether full-scale or piecemeal, the reduction of blanket keyword blocks is paradoxically a loss of transparency, since Chinese users no longer explicitly know when certain results are being specifically targeted for censorship – either through a message stating results could not be shown, as was previously the case, or with a connection reset error. Before, Chinese users knew when their results were extra sensitive (most, if not all, Chinese users are aware that censors routinely work behind the scenes to delete sensitive posts), yet the new changes – combined with other tactics documented by GreatFire like only showing search results from verified users for certain terms and delaying posts from appearing in search results – create even more uncertainty as to the boundaries of discourse online, perhaps encouraging greater self-censorship by users. What is and is not off-limits has now become slightly harder to determine – another step in making censorship invisible and all-pervasive.[Source]

Read more about Sina Weibo via CDT, and see results from CDT’s project to collect and translate search terms that are blocked on Weibo.