“20021” may look like a random string of numbers or a mangled date, but many Weibo users know it as a sign that they are being blocked from posting “sensitive” content. Telegram user @cybergraveyardcn (简中赛博坟场) recently sent CDT crowdsourced, categorized data documenting many years and varieties of Weibo censorship. The report, translated below, includes screenshots of error messages, notices, and other indications that a post has been censored on Weibo. @cybergraveyardcn has since made the full report public on Telegram. Readers can view more Weibo censorship archives in @cybergraveyardcn’s channel by searching the term “#微博存档” (Weibo Archives).
Note: All of the content is my own work. Images were chosen at random to serve as examples, and do not represent my own personal views. Please forgive me for any errors you may find. Created: February 12, 2020
I. Unable to post or display
1. (Error 20021) Sorry, unable to perform the current operation due to content in violation of relevant laws and regulations or the terms of the Weibo Community Agreement. (The post is blocked because of specific content.)
2. Comments containing sensitive words cannot be viewed. Called “comment gobbling” for short.
II. Image or video censored
1. Image cannot be opened.
2. Video has been deleted.
3. Image can be opened from the timeline on the homepage, but not from the post itself. (In this case, animated GIFs that cannot be attached are usually official images containing the names of state leaders.)III. Restrictions1. Restricted circulation. The number of views is zero or a very low number. Post does not appear in the user’s timeline.
2. “Repost” button automatically disappears from post. Only “comment” and “like” buttons are displayed. Content can only be viewed by mutual friends.
3. Repost and comment functions are normal, but the contents of reposts and comments are not visible.
4. Reposting disabled from original post (“repost” button is gray), but can repost from other users’ reposts.
5. Commenting disabled. Comments cannot be viewed. Post can be reposted, and reposts are still visible.
6. Repost and comment functions disabled. Post cannot be reposted or replied to.
7. “Likes” disabled.
8. Post can be reposted, but the full text of the original post cannot be viewed.
9. Blocked from editing post.
10. Blocked from promoting post [a paid service].
11. Author has elected to display comments selectively.
IV. Contents of post censored
1. “Repost” button disappears after a certain number of reposts. Content is only visible to mutual friends.
2. Another user has reported you for violating regulations. In accordance with Weibo’s Rules for Reports and Complaints, … [sic] has been deleted.
3. This post has been deleted for violating relevant laws and regulations and the Weibo Rules for Reports and Complaints. Displayed as Error 20112: Permission to view this post has been temporarily revoked.
4. Account inspected by cyber police for alleged violation of regulations; content processed for violation of regulations.
5. Both original post and repost chain have been deleted.
6. Original post not deleted, but reposts in chain have been selectively deleted.
7. Customer service makes Big V account viewable by account owner only.
V. Search censored
1. Account exists, but does not appear in the search bar.
2. Search results only show content from verified users.
3. In accordance with relevant laws and regulations, search results cannot be displayed.
1. Likes not permitted. Likes disappear automatically.
2. Reposts not permitted. Reposts appear to work, but do not appear on the user’s page.
3. (Error 20016) Updated too frequently. Triggered by multiple reposts within a short period of time.
4. Must enter verification code to follow, unfollow, like, comment, or repost.
5. Because you recently posted content that violates relevant national laws and regulations, your Weibo account is suspended for seven days/30 days/90 days/one year/etc. You may or may not receive a private message notifying you of the suspension.
VII. Account deleted
Unusual activity has been detected on your Weibo account. Please reactivate your account to restore normal function. (Error 3022608) Commonly known as account bombing. Account page displays the message “User does not exist,” and posts show the message, “This account cannot be viewed because the user has been reported for violating relevant laws and regulations and the terms of the Weibo Community Agreement,” or “Content does not exist.” [Chinese]
CDT has independently verified some of the images included in the report. For example, one screenshot shows that nationalistic influencer Ren Yi, better known as Chairman Rabbit (兔主席 @jeune), posted an image with a caption in Chinese that read “The hypocritical mob is a ‘cancer’ on the rule of law.” The screenshot shows that the image had been removed, a common censorship method on Weibo, where longer texts are often shared as images. CDT found that Chairman Rabbit used the exact same title in a blog post dated July 14, 2019. The blog post also included an image of a short essay in which he criticized Hong Kong protesters. It is likely that he posted the image on Weibo, and that it was later removed, as shown in @cybergraveyardcn’s screenshot.
Another screenshot shows that Weibo user @欧洲文艺评论 posted, “Some genius translated the name of American Gilead’s new drug ‘Remdesivir’ as ‘People’s Hope’” (美国吉利德的新药Remdesivir，竟然被高人翻译为“人民的希望”). (The drug name, Ruìdé xīwéi 瑞德西韦 sounds similar to rén[mín] de xīwàng 人[民]的希望 [people’s hope].) The screenshot shows that the post’s comment function was disabled. CDT was unable to locate the original post, but other posts made around the same time (February 2020) attribute the sentence to the same author.Some of the censorship methods included here are also confirmed in Weibo censor shift logs, a series of classified work logs from 2011 to 2014 obtained and published by Eric Lipeng Liu, a former Weibo employee and whistleblower who now researches internet censorship and resistance. The work logs are published on CDT’s sister site, China Digital Space.
Translation by Anne Henochowicz.