Minitrue: Three Leaked Censorship Directives Target Anti-Lockdown Protests and Censorship-circumvention Tools

The following censorship instructions, issued to the media by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online. 

Cyberspace Administration of China

6:11 P.M., November 29, 2022

Notification: Thorough Clean-up and Regulation of Firewall-circumvention Tools, Goods and Services (Submit daily feedback before 12:00 noon)

In line with a previous assessment of the situation, all platforms are requested to carry out a thorough clean-up and regulation of tools used to bypass the Firewall:

First, e-commerce platforms should continue their concerted efforts to clean up online sales of goods and services used to circumvent the Firewall. These include Firewall-circumvention routers, VPNs, web accelerators, VPS [virtual private servers], overseas Apple accounts, etc.

Second, thoroughly investigate, clean up and remove all illegal Firewall-circumvention software or tools from app stores and file-hosting services.

Third, UGC [“user-generated content”] platforms that share user-generated or self-published audiovisual material should clean up harmful content that instructs users in circumvention techniques, such as “Firewall circumvention,” “accessing the Internet scientifically,” etc.

Fourth, all search engines should continue implementing a clean-up of search results related to bypassing the Firewall, and limit the spread of keywords such as “Firewall circumvention,” “accessing the Internet scientifically,” etc.

Fifth, each day before 12:00 noon, submit daily feedback for the previous 24-hour period. At the same time, when submitting recommendations for content to be banned, please include the name of the circumvention software (and attach the software installation package, if available) and the IP address of the server used to circumvent the Firewall. List these separately. [Chinese]

Cyberspace Administration of China

6:13 P.M., November 29, 2022 

November 29 Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) management coordination videoconference:

  1. Yesterday, Minister Niu [Niu Yibing, deputy director of the Office of the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission] held a National Cyberspace Administration System management coordination videoconference. Based on the current situation, it was deemed necessary to initiate a Level I Internet Emergency Response, the highest level of content management. Key managers should take a hands-on approach, and strengthen content management. Given the recent high-profile events in various provinces, information about offline disturbances and backflows of overseas information must be rapidly identified, dealt with, and reported.
  2. The incident on November 24 triggered expressions of various grievances; pernicious political slogans appeared in Shanghai; college and university students held conspicuous political gatherings; smears by foreign media increased; and various websites have strengthened their content management.
  3. Public opinion management and control: err on the side of strict management and control of content related to public gatherings, people rushing COVID checkpoints, and particularly content related to colleges and universities. Strengthen preliminary auditing, and stringently investigate incendiary accounts.
  4. Emphasize discipline and discretion, and do not allow work instructions to be leaked.
  5. Last night, there was overseas hype about a public gathering in Huangzhuang, Haidian district [Beijing]. Today, the direction seems to be Yayuncun [Asian Games Village] and other areas in Chaoyang district. Pay careful attention to this, and promptly identify and report related content.
  6. Tomorrow, November 30, marks one week since the deaths that occurred on November 24; December 9 is International Anti-Corruption Day; and December 10 is International Human Rights Day. Pay careful attention to these and other sensitive dates, maintain strict controls, and strengthen preliminary content audits.
  7. Promptly identify and report content aimed at stirring up public sentiment or any such similarly “targeted” content.
  8. Focus on public opinion about the pandemic in Beijing. [Chinese]

Three leaked censorship directives—the two above from the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), and another from a local government—appear aimed at suppressing news about the recent nationwide spate of anti-lockdown protests, cracking down on censorship-circumvention tools, and reining in local propagandists in an effort to quell public sentiment. For more background on the protests, and on the deadly fire in Urumqi that touched them off, CDT has published a number of articles detailing the memorials, public gatherings, and slogans, as well as the responses (or lack thereof) by state media, the government, law enforcement, and online censors. 

The two CAC directives, which have been archived and translated by CDT editors, first appeared on the Twitter account @whyyoutouzhele (also known as 李老师不是你老师, Li laoshi bu shi ni laoshi). The owner of the account, who has reportedly received death threats for their tweets about current events in China, noted that “Someone affiliated with the Cyberspace Administration of China submitted this. In the near future, tools for bypassing the Great Firewall (GFW) will be more strictly regulated. Also, be alert to some key dates coming up.”

The first CAC directive is targeted at cracking down on tools used to circumvent internet controls and gain access to blocked overseas websites. The second references a high-level, multi-agency meeting of cyberspace administrators, at which a “Level I Internet Emergency Response” was initiated. The directive’s eight points include a number of measures meant to muffle news of the protests, distract the public, and avoid further inflaming popular opinion.

A third directive appears to be from a local government. A leaked screenshot shows a text-messaging group called the “District Propaganda Department Working Group,” with 129 members, and the following brief message:

The city requests that all counties and districts refrain from unnecessary propaganda about the trials and tribulations of frontline pandemic prevention and control work. Exercise extreme caution when publicizing “model deeds” on the frontline, particularly if this includes images or video. At present, there are so many vicious currents online that the response is all too often a chorus of criticism, which generates public controversy. [Chinese]

Two members of the text-messaging group responded, simply, “Received.”

真Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. Some instructions are issued by local authorities or to specific sectors, and may not apply universally across China. The date given may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source. See CDT’s collection of Directives from the Ministry of Truth since 2011.


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