Charting China’s Social Media Censorship

Between allowing a blind activist to escape home confinement, weathering the downfall of a once-rising Communist Party star and watching the economy head in the direction of a hard landing, it’s been a stressful past few months for China’s leaders.Were this the U.S., we might measure that stress by counting the gray hairs on the president’s head, but Chinese leaders’ nearly universal penchant for jet-black hair dye means the follicle test is out. Thanks to MIT Sloan School of Management student Chi-Chu Tschang, however, we have an alternative way to account for the governance pressures afflicting authorities in Beijing: a chart illustrating patterns in the way censors delete posts from the country’s popular Twitter-like microblogging service Sina Weibo.Chi-Chu TschangClick for full-sized image.More In Censorship’Body Double’ Blocked Online Amid Speculation About Gu KailaiChina State Media at Odds Over Myanmar Censorship MoveA Limited Look Into the Gu TrialReport Suggests More TV Rules AheadCoincidence? Sina Weibo’s Curious Breakdown

Mr. Tschang, who compiled the data using the WeiboScope tool developed by Hong Kong University’s China Media Project, noted in a phone interview that removal of posts was statistically lower on Saturdays. That might simply mean that major events in recent months happened not to fall on weekends — though it could also indicate that, just like the rest of us, the censors at Sina Corp prefer to take it easier on the weekend.Unfortunately for Mr. Tschang, it appears the publication of his analysis, first written up by the Nieman Journalism Lab, may have led to the deletion of his own Weibo account.As of 7;30 pm Beijing time Friday, attempts to view Mr. Tschang’s account turn up an error message that says it is temporarily unavailable.Although the removal of Mr. Tschang’s account hasn’t stopped a few posts detailing his study from being reposted around Weibo, ultimately it seems the censors may have gotten the last laugh.

 

– Paul Mozur. Follow him on Twitter @paulmozur

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About evanfang

Advertising & PR student @ UNSW.

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