China’s suppression of freedom of speech on the Internet is nothing new. Bloggers took to their computers this past weekend to blog about a riot that broke out in China’s Guizhou province. It didn’t take long for the government to cut them off from the rest of the world, but as sneaky as we bloggers can be, they figured out a way around the Great Firewall of China.
From the Wall Street Journal (subscription required):
Some 30,000 rioters set fire to government buildings over the weekend to protest the way authorities handled the death of a teenager in the province’s Weng’an County. While state-controlled media provided immediate coverage, government censors moved fast to delete online posts providing unofficial accounts and deactivate the accounts of those users.
So bloggers on forums such as Tianya.cn have taken to posting in formats that China’s Internet censors, often employees of commercial Internet service providers, have a hard time automatically detecting. One recent strategy involves online software that flips sentences to read right to left instead of left to right, and vertically instead of horizontally.
China’s sophisticated censorship regime — known as the Great Firewall — can automatically track objectionable phrases. But “the country also has the most experienced and talented group of netizens who always know ways around it,” said an editor at Tianya, owned by Hainan Tianya Online Networking Technology Co., who has been responsible for deleting posts about the riot.
With the Beijing Olympics slightly more than a month away, the Chinese government has shown little patience toward dissent, online or offline. On June 27, authorities in Nanjing imposed a four-year prison sentence on Sun Lin, who had written posts on the overseas dissident Web site Boxun.com, after convicting him of “gathering crowds to cause social unrest” and other offenses. Media-freedom group Reporters Without Borders says that since the beginning of 2008, there have been 24 cases of journalists, cyberdissidents or free-expression activists being arrested or sentenced to jail terms.
Here’s how they did it: