11 March 2013
If you write something politically sensitive on China's microblogs, or Weibo, how quickly might it be deleted? Researchers in the United States have been looking into the issue and found some surprising results.
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With more than half a billion Chinese online, and many of them avid microbloggers, the speed of censorship uncovered on Sina Weibo is astonishing. The researchers mined data on microblog comments removed by administrators, and found that nearly a third of the deleted posts were taken down in the first 30 minutes.
Unsurprisingly, criticism of the government, local scandals and complaints about China's one-child policy were blocked most quickly. But the team worked out that if none of the process was automated, Sina Weibo would need to employ more than 4,000 speed-reading censors a day, just to keep up.
The researchers uncovered a range of devices aimed at bringing bloggers into line. They included: hiding posts from other users, flagging repeat offenders for closer scrutiny, and tracking backwards to delete sensitive topics everywhere they arose.
With China's media so strictly controlled, the study has raised questions about why microblogs allow people to post before censorship at all. One of the researchers, Professor Dan Wallach, told the BBC that Sina Weibo had to satisfy government censorship requirements without seeming heavy-handed to its bloggers. He said it had to walk a fine line.
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extremely keen, enthusiastic and interested
deleting parts of books, films, newspapers, etc. that are believed to be unsuitable
found by searching carefully for a long time
situations in which important people behave in a dishonest or immoral way that shocks a lot of people
- bringing bloggers into line
forcing bloggers to follow the rules
making a note of; highlighting something for more attention
detailed and very close attention or examination
- to satisfy
to please someone by giving them what they want or need
using too much force
- to walk a fine line
to be very careful in finding the right balance