Censorship Instructions for Online Forums

Weibo wasn’t the only social media platform punished after coup rumors spread this March. An apparently leaked “urgent notice” to online forum managers was posted to the Chinese tech site e553.com on April 11 and to CDT Chinese on September 25. The notice instructs managers how to use DiscuzSearch, the search function for the forum software Discuz!, to block posts containing sensitive keywords and to prevent posts from being published overnight (when banned material can spread without human censors noticing). Webmasters are warned to be especially vigilant during “this most critical and difficult of times for websites,” alluding to the Party’s upcoming leadership transition. Various government organs cracked down on online rumor-mongering after discussion of an alleged coup plot by ousted Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai and Security Chief Zhou Yongkang spread in late March. The commenting function on both Sina and Tencent’s weibo (microblogging) services was suspended from March 31 to April 3, and 16 other websites were shut down. The Maoist website Utopia was shuttered for a month in April and forced to move its URL. China’s online censors do not simply expunge offending information from the Web. As seen from the notice below and from CDT’s Sensitive Words series, certain keywords may be blocked from search results—but the offending material is still visible to web managers and others with access to a platform’s “back end.” And censorship is not directly controlled by the government, but instead delegated to the private sector. For insight into the logic behind online censorship, read Reverse Engineering Weibo Censorship from CDT. Every major website recently received a notice requiring the sites self-examine themselves for illegal content and immediately shut themselves down should they discover sensitive information. Numerous websites have confirmed receipt of this information. For the purposes of safety, please examine content ...
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