Sina Weibo drives censorship on Tiananmen Square anniversary

Twenty three years ago today, the Tienanmen Square Protests were put down in bloody fashion by Chinese authorities.

Given that the government refuses to acknowledge that the event happened, it’s hardly surprising that users on Sina Weibo — the country’s immensely popular microblogging network — have found their opinions on the event quietened.

As well as user accounts being banned, Chinese news site The Shanghaiist reports that a number of emoticons have been banned.

The candle emoticon, which is often used by Sina Weibo users to mourn deaths reported in the news, was withdrawn late on Sunday. After discovering what had happened, people began using the Olympic torch as a replacement before that too was taken down.

According to The Next Web, internal search results relating to “candle”, “six four” (June 4), “23″ (the 23 year anniversary), and “never forget” were also prevented from being shown.

A number of people found that they were simply unable to send out messages on the social network.

George Chen, a financial editor with the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, reportedly wrote on his Sina Weibo profile:

Many netizens here in Hong Kong have observed that starting from around 3pm, they’ve been either unable to tweet, or have had their tweets ‘locked up’, that is to say, the service gives you the impression you have successfully sent out your tweets, but in reality, you’re the only person who is able to see them. I originally didn’t want to say anything as I know it’s been hard on Sina Weibo, but this deception has been taken one step too far. Why have they singled out Hong Kong netizens? Everybody knows what’s in their minds.

Sina Weibo has however been unable to completely block chatter around the event. As industry watcher Bill Bishop notes:

The Sina filters are still quite permeable, and either Sina is allowed to permit some venting about June 4 or Weibo may need to go down for maintenance. There is no way they can keep up otherwise.

Given that Sina Weibo has had to adopt increasingly strict measures to keep authorities happy, it seems likely that it may be forced to take the latter route if things get really bad. Top level Chinese officials have come down hard on the social network in recent months, accusing it of allowing users to spread false rumours.

The fact that it has had to take these measures when the equally popular Tencent Weibo has not is illustrative of this.



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