Twitter flashmobs test China's censorship tools
Venkatesan Vembu / DNA
Hong Kong: Twitter users in China staged a minor armchair insurrection on Sunday, with a torrent of critical online posts about the country’s infamous censorship mechanism, colloquially called the Great Firewall (GFW).
Posting short messages, or tweets, at a prodigious rate of 800 a minute, a flashmob of Chinese Twitterati propelled the hashtag #GFW on the microblogging service (that’s blocked in China) to the second top trending subject by late evening.
Hashtags represent subjects on which volume of Twitter posts is among the highest for the day. The GFW trendline was peaking at a time when Twitter users in the US, who account for perhaps the largest proportion of Twitter users by nationality, were offline, and fell when hoax reports began circulating on the Internet that actor Johnny Depp had died.
Nevertheless, Chinese Internet users were savouring the delicious irony that a censored service was being used to raise global awareness about the system that censors it.
The ‘keyboard insurrection’ comes at a time when China’s iron-handed censorship of the Internet has received unflattering attention worldwide in the context of search engine giant Google’s decision last week to consider withdrawing its service in China if it was compelled to abide by strict censorship laws.
Last week, China and the US were also locked in a war of words following US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s criticism of China and other regimes that place excessive restrictions on the Internet.
Sunday’s Twitter chatter also shows up the increasing vocal nature of sentiments among China’s growing number of Internet users directed against the firewalls and censorship mechanism, and the relative ease with which larger numbers of Chinese Netizens are scaling the Great Firewall.
One Twitter user summed up the widespread revulsion of Chinese authorities’ censorship methods when he said, “We are desperately living behind that damned #GFW and craving for a better China with freedom of speech.”
Another posted a rather more radical message: “Tear down #GFW! Tear down the invisible cyber Berlin Wall in China!” Others mocked that China was famous for its five “great inventions: compass, gunpowder, papermaking, printing and #GFW.”
The Twitter rebellion is unlikely to challenge Chinese authorities’ iron hold on the Internet, but it is nevertheless an index of popular opinion that openly challenges the official government narrative that the Internet in China is “open and free”, and that the US government was using Google to advance “information imperialism” on China.
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