Thu, Jul 14, 2011 - Page 8 News List

‘Cyberdisappearance’ taking hold

By Sarah Cook

In a dynamic that highlights the Chinese leadership’s wariness of social media, cyberdisappearance has been especially evident on the search engine of the Sina Weibo microblogging platform, which boasts more than 140 million Chinese users. After Ai’s release, China Digital Times reported that his name as well as various homonyms and nicknames had been banned on Sina Weibo’s search tool. Recent tests by Freedom House showed that searches for the names of six other leading journalists, lawyers and activists yield no results on Sina Weibo, though they do produce a cryptic explanation: “According to related laws and policy, some of the results are not shown here.”

The Chinese Internet censorship apparatus is not airtight, and deletion tactics are not applied with the same intensity to all activists. Nevertheless, even when compared with other countries known for systematic censorship, such as Saudi Arabia and Vietnam, China’s Internet controls are in a league of their own. No other country has such a nuanced, selective and malleable system, spurred on to ever greater extremes by the paranoid sensitivity of a regime that fears the independent thought of its own people.

Ironically, as rumors of his death spread online, Jiang Zemin (江澤民), the former Chinese president under whose watch the Great Firewall was born, has become the latest victim of cyberdisappearance.

Sarah Cook is an Asia research analyst and assistant editor at Freedom House. She is one of the editors of the China Media Bulletin.

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