China puts a gag on social media and makes arrests for coup rumors

March 31, 2012Jing Gao25 Comments, , , , , , , , , , , ,

China has shut down 16 websites, placed a blanket comment ban on two microblogging services, and apprehended six people as punishment for their “concocting and/or disseminating” coup rumors.

On the morning of March 31, Sina Weibo users who tried to leave comments received an error message from the system,

“To all Weibo users, recently, comments left by microbloggers have started to contain much illegal and detrimental information, including rumors. In an effort to clean them up in one stroke, commenting function of Sina Weibo will be temporarily disabled from 8 a.m. March 31 to 8 a.m. April 3. After the clean-up, we will reopen comments section. Necessary clean-up of information is conducive to providing everyone a better communicating atmosphere. We expect your understanding and consideration. Thank your for your support.”

Tencent Weibo has a similar announcement on its website. But both microblogging services have kept their post and repost function intact.

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The decision to muzzle social media users came from the Chinese authorities after Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo, two of the country’s most popular Twitter-like services, kept spilling out rumors about a coup d’état in the pipeline masterminded by Zhou Yongkang, Bo Xilai’s political allies, after Bo, a political wonder boy and flamboyant demagogue, was suddenly ousted from his post as the party boss of Chongqing, China’s most populous directly-controlled city.

Many netizens said they saw tanks roll into the capital. Some even claimed they heard gunshots fired.

The ouster of Bo Xilai, a political hopeful aiming for a seat in the 9-member Politburo Standing Committee, the stratosphere of Chinese politics, as a result of split with protégé Wang Lijun, who sought political asylum from the United States, is a political scandal redolent of mystery-looking and drama-filled Hollywood films that piqued the curiosity of Chinese netizens, who, thanks to the social media, are able to steal a peek.

At first, moderators, particularly those at Sina Weibo, blocked key words such as ‘Bo Xilai’, ‘Zhou Yongkang’ (Bo’s ally and strongest supporter in the Politburo Standing Committee), and ‘Chongqing’, so that any discussion containing these “sensitive words” will automatically trigger the censoring apparatus and be disabled. However, netizens one-upped censors by inventing imaginative and humorous substitute words to get around the restriction. For example, they called Bo Xilai The Prince in the West, and Zhou has been nicknamed for a popular brand of instant noodles.

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Just as the online rumor mill stopped churning out wild stories and the sand settled, the blanket comment ban has stirred up another storm. Many personalities and influential microbloggers, who have millions of fans (followers) on Sina Weibo, expressed their objection to the ban and its chilling effect .

@作业本 (lit. Notebook), an anonymous Weibo user who has garnered a fan base of 2.2 million for his wisecracks, wrote, “Scrutiny of books, review of films, control of the Internet, restrictions on publications, management of speech, censorship of newspapers, maintenance of stability in the public opinion, closing of comments…These idiotic measures are exactly proof that He is increasingly similar to North Korea. If you don’t live every day as if it were April Fools’ Day, He will cut off power supply and internet access and make sure you live April Fools’ Day…In fact, as long as you were born in the specific country, you have to live April Fools’ Day every day.”

In a separate post, he also quipped, “I will reward any one that leaves a comment on my post or anyone else’s post after 10 a.m. March 31 and before 8 a.m., April 3, a million US dollars, a hundred iPhones, iPads, a top-level sports car, a sugar daddy belt…In all, I will give you whatever you want. Note: please notice the rule of the game and the expiration date. P.S. Sina’s Little Secretary, don’t you fool me! Don’t you dare reopen comment section ahead of time!!”

Pan Shiyi (@潘石屹), chairman of SOHO China, the country’s biggest property developer, asked, “In order to prevent circulation of rumors, they disabled ‘comment’, but not ‘repost/share’? Is this an adequate remedy for the disease?” Pan boasts 9.5 million fans,

Zhang Xin (@张欣), CEO of SOHO China and wife of Pan Shiyi, wrote to her 3.3 million fans, “Will Weibo without comments function really stop ‘rumors’? What is the best way to stop ‘rumors’? It is transparency and openness. The more speech is discouraged, the more rumors there will be.”

Jeremy Goldkorn, Beijing-based media personality and founder of the popular China media website Danwei.org, shared Pan Shiyi’s post and added, “Disabling comments is not a remedy to treat the disease, but a way to remind you who your grandfather (slang for boss) is.”

More posts about the closing of comments

@青媒素:Soil where flow of information is obstructed is the ideal hotbed for rumors…

@深圳老崔 :A reporter interviewed a deaf and mute man in the street, “Do you have anything to say about disabling of Sina Weibo’s comments function?” Man: “…………” Reporter, “Oh, so did you try to say, ‘Creating a harmonious society is a job of yours, mine and his?’”

@郑插插:Sina’s mascot should look like this these days:

sina weibo sina-weibo-new-logo1

(The speech bubble says, “Uh…”)

@强行被注销名字:

censorship02

(No one can hear your screams here. Have the people duct-taped.)

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25 comments to “China puts a gag on social media and makes arrests for coup rumors”

  1. [...] 11:30 pm: Nope, we haven’t forgotten about Tencent. Tea Leaf Nation: Tencent Weibo has a similar announcement on its website. But both microblogging services have kept [...]

  2. [...] The story had already largely played itself out in the foreign press.There are also specific doubts about the effectiveness of the comment suspension. From Ministry of Tofu:Pan Shiyi (@潘石屹), chairman of SOHO China, the country’s biggest [...]

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  4. Guy In China | April 1, 2012 | Permalink Reply

    The weibo character looks like he’s into S&M, not internet censorship

  5. [...] on the left is the logo for Sina Weibo; the penguin is the logo of Tencent.]See more cartoons translated on Ministry of Tofu. March 31, 2012 9:52 PMPosted By: Sophie BeachCategories: Information Revolution, Politics, [...]

  6. [...] Gao, from Ministry of Tofu, wrote: On the morning of March 31, Sina Weibo users who tried to leave comments received an error [...]

  7. [...] China Digital Times and Ministry of Tofu collected some (funny) reactions of netizens about the [...]

  8. [...] ¿Crímenes de internet?…El mensaje en el sitio de Sina para sus usuarios, después de recibir su castigo correctivo por habilitar la comunicación de millones de chinos, fue:A todos los usuarios de weibo, recientemente, comentarios de microbloggers contenían información [...]

  9. [...] Gao, from Ministry of Tofu, wrote: On the morning of March 31, Sina Weibo users who tried to leave comments received an error [...]

    • Bindiya | November 21, 2012 | Permalink Reply

      Weibo, or any sort of media in that matter, caonnt substitute the justice system. I agree with you on many points. For instance, I agree that public opinion sometimes can obstruct justice, and weibo, where the public’s opinions are voiced, is surely no exception. However, it is still a channel of expression for Chinese public, whether these opinions will have positive or negative impact on society. China needs a more comprehensive and healthier justice system, as well as enforcement of the Constitution and laws. However, it also needs a place for free speech. Weibo is nowhere near perfect, but it is important and, I have to say, necessary in building a democratic society in China, although it is going to be a long process.

  10. [...] El mensaje en el sitio de Sina para sus usuarios, después de recibir su castigo correctivo por habilitar la comunicación de millones de chinos, fue: [...]

  11. [...] El mensaje en el sitio de Sina para sus usuarios, después de recibir su castigo correctivo por habilitar la comunicación de millones de chinos, fue: [...]

  12. [...] El mensaje en el sitio de Sina para sus usuarios, después de recibir su castigo correctivo por habilitar la comunicación de millones de chinos, fue: [...]

  13. [...] El mensaje en el sitio de Sina para sus usuarios, después de recibir su castigo correctivo por habilitar la comunicación de millones de chinos, fue: [...]

  14. [...] El mensaje en el sitio de Sina para sus usuarios, después de recibir su castigo correctivo por habilitar la comunicación de millones de chinos, fue: [...]

  15. [...] El mensaje en el sitio de Sina para sus usuarios, después de recibir su castigo correctivo por habilitar la comunicación de millones de chinos, fue: [...]

  16. [...] de internet?… (!)El mensaje en el sitio de Sina para sus usuarios, después de recibir su castigo correctivo por habilitar la comunicación de millones de chinos, fue:A todos los usuarios de weibo, recientemente, comentarios de microbloggers contenían información [...]

  17. [...] El mensaje en el sitio de Sina para sus usuarios, después de recibir su castigo correctivo por habilitar la comunicación de millones de chinos, fue: [...]

  18. [...] Gao ze strony Ministry of Tofu napisał: Rankiem, 31 marca, użytkownicy Sina Weibo, którzy próbowali zostawić komentarz, [...]

  19. [...] Gao fra Ministeriet for Tofu skrev: On the morning of March 31, Sina Weibo users who tried to leave comments received an error [...]

  20. [...] di questi giorni infatti la notizia del blocco temporaneo dei commenti su Sina Weibo e su altre piattaforme locali – tra le quali uno dei principali competitor Tencet [...]

  21. [...] El mensaje en el sitio de Sina para sus usuarios, después de recibir su castigo correctivo por habilitar la comunicación de millones de chinos, fue: [...]

  22. [...] Гао, од сајтот Министри оф Тофу, напиша: Утрото на 31 март, корисниците на Сина Веибо [...]

  23. [...] a few days ago there has been a temporary block of the comments on Sina Weibo and other local platforms – such as the main competitor Tencent Weibo – by [...]

  24. [...] Jing Gao, από το Ministry of Tofu, έγραψε: Το πρωί της 31 Μαρτίου, οι χρήστες του Sina Weibo [...]

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