social network

What words are blocked in Chinese social networks


Office of Sina Corp (owner of Weibo) in Beijing. Getty Photos
Office of Sina Corp (owner of Weibo) in Beijing. Getty Photos

February 28, 2018 in the largest Chinese social network Weibo temporarily banned several expressions, including the letter “N” (later the lock was removed). The news, which was resonated against the background of the new plans of the Communist Party to change the constitution, was not the first in the history of Chinese censorship.

Local authorities see a real threat on the Internet, and, not being able to completely disconnect from his country, have developed a system of point-blank prohibitions of dangerous words and expressions. From historical events to seemingly amusing incidents.

How censorship works in Weibo

The publications in the main social network of China are monitored by algorithms and censors. Researchers who studied in detail the principles of blocking content, briefly reduced the process to several stages.

  • If a user writes a message with blocked content, the system gives an error and does not publish the post until there is a prohibited material in it;
  • If there is no “dangerous” content in the message, the user is asked to wait 1-2 minutes before synchronizing with the servers for publication. As the researchers note, this process is sometimes delayed from 30 to 140 minutes. During this time the post is viewed by censors – if they detect suspicious phrases, they make the post invisible in the tape;
  • If, after studying suspicious moments, censors do not find them excessively dangerous, they return the post to the general tape. Otherwise, there are three possible outcomes: the censors delete the post and report it to the author, the censors leave the post invisible, but do not notify the user or delete the message and block the account.

According to experts, censors quite often delete accounts or for a long time do not inform the owner that his post was hidden from the general tape for violations. This means that only the author will see him, he will not appear in the search for words.

The former employees of the department of censorship in Weibo told us that at first the work suppresses, but then the person “burns out” and simply does business. “I can say that we worked very much and received very little,” the former censor said in a conversation with Reuters. He asked not to be named, in order to avoid problems at home.

In Beijing, the department of Weibo censors is a room with dozens of small office-cubes that can be clearly seen through the transparent doors of an unremarkable building. Each table is occupied by one employee, and in front of them is a large monitor for observation. As the journalist notes, this hardly looks like a scene from a novel about a totalitarian country.

Another former employee of the sphere explained that their task is to protect Weibo from closure by the authorities and at the same time to give people the opportunity to communicate, albeit with reservations. Most of the censors are people slightly older than 20, they receive $ 490 a month (about 27 thousand rubles) and work for 12 hours.

On average, for 24 hours specialists handle about 3 million “suspicious” posts – they should always follow the list of forbidden language, which is constantly updated. If in the social network there will be a forbidden message and authorities will find out about it, Weibo can be fined or, with very serious violations, shut down. However, often all ends with fines or firing of the censor.

What’s missing from Weibo

The exact number of words blocked in a social network is difficult to determine. First of all, the prohibition of phrases relating to the Communist Party and relatives of officials, then there are historical episodes. For example, the phrase “One man blocks tanks”.

Unknown man in front of a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square. Holiday pictures AP

The term refers to the famous episode in June 1989, when an unknown man stood in Tiananmen Square in front of a column of tanks during the unrest in Beijing. Rallies against government actions lasted about three months and ended with the dispersal of tanks: according to various sources , in the course of this, up to 2,500,000 people, mostly students, died.

Unknown man in front of a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square. Holiday pictures AP
Unknown man in front of a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square. Holiday pictures AP

For the current Chinese authorities, this story is considered defamatory, so all references to it are prohibited. The fate of the man who came out against the tanks is unknown.

“Secretary of the gang”

In China, the word “secretary” became a household name after a high-profile case against former public security minister Zhou Yongkang in 2014. He was accused of corruption and disclosure of state secrets (in the local press for such investigations use the expression “serious violation of discipline”) in the “gang of four”.

Zhou Yongkang. Reuters photo

All four members of the group belonged to the close circle of the general secretary of the Central Committee, Xi Jinping, from where the expression “gang of secretary” came from. Probably, the phrase was blocked, so as not to defame the honor of the head of the country.

Zhou Yongkang. Reuters photo
Zhou Yongkang. Reuters photo

In June 2015, Yunkan and two other members of the group were sentenced to life imprisonment. The last gang member, former deputy chairman of the Central Military Council of China Xu Tsaihou, died of bladder cancer before the verdict.

“Seven Deadly Sins”

Pride, envy, anger, despondency, greed, gluttony and lust – for Christian countries these concepts are widely known as “seven deadly sins”, but in Weibo this formulation is periodically blocked from 2012 (sometimes it still occurs in social networks). It is impossible to say with certainty why it was banned. In the book ” Blocked on Weibo ” author Jason K suggests that this is due to the “religious sensitivity” of the authorities.

According to another version, the history of the blockage began in 2002, when a Chinese activist and journalist Michael Anti wrote a reporter’s guide , where he used the phrase “seven deadly sins” to describe local publications. In other words, this expression is indirectly criticized by the Chinese media, controlled by the authorities, and therefore offends the officials.

“I have no enemies”

This was the speech of the Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 for “inciting the overthrow of the government.” He wanted to read “I do not have enemies” on the last word, but after 14 minutes of reading the judge was interrupted by Xiaobo. Speech widely dispersed in Chinese social networks, in 2010, he read in English actress Liv Ullman. Shortly thereafter, speech and its formulation were banned.

In June 2017, Xiobo was diagnosed with liver cancer, Western authorities, including the US, urged the Chinese authorities to release the activist for treatment abroad, but he was not allowed to leave. About a month later, a 61-year-old human rights activist passed away.

“Underwear E Inchun”

The expression refers to the “incident” in 2011, when, during a television broadcast, the bra strap of the journalist Y Yingchun slid onto her shoulder, and the audience saw it. Until the end it is not clear why the phrase fell under the ban – either in order to protect the honor of the girl, or prevent users from searching for it on the Internet.

In 2014, the Hong Kong edition of Phoenix Television reported that Ye Yingchun was detained on suspicion in connection with the corruption schemes of “Gang of Four” participant Zhou Yongkang. Since then, nothing is known about her situation.

Screenshot of the record with E Yingchun
Screenshot of the record with E Yingchun
Screenshot of the record with E Yingchun

“Brother Watchmaker”

This is the name of any wording that mentions wrist watches of officials. In 2012, she received viral popularity in Weibo thanks to the former head of the Shaanxi Labor Security Administration, Jan Datsay. Users noticed that on one of the photos on the site of a bus accident the official smiles, and on his hand he has expensive watches. It turned out that a civil servant often appears on frames with watches from Rolex, whose price reaches 10 thousand dollars.

Resonance around the official led to an investigation, and in September 2013 Datsai was sentenced to 11 years in prison for corruption.

Jan Datsai with a wristwatch. Photos of
Jan Datsai with a wristwatch. Photos of
Jan Datsai with a wristwatch. Photos of

A similar incident occurred in Panjin County in September 2012. Local farmer Van Shujie refused to transfer his land to local authorities and they called the police. At some point the negotiations reached a deadlock, and Shujie was shot.

According to Weibo’s users, the order to shoot the defeats was given by the head of Jiang Wei-hua County – in photos he was also noticed with expensive wristwatches, which he could hardly afford on the official salary of the official. The wording “Panjin, shooting with weapons” became a local meme among Weibo activists, sometimes it still occurs on the social network.

“The place of the murder in Xuanen”

Details of this story vary , but the general outline is this: in November 2012, a farmer in Xuan’an District in Hubei Province Little Zhang accidentally hit a girl, causing her slight damage.

After that, a policeman named Du Ping began to regularly chase Zhang, insult him and his family, and beat up the farmer. So it lasted about a week. Then Zhang complained to the police station about the employee and asked for help, but he was ignored. In a rage, Zhang waited for Pin at home and stabbed him.

According to rumors, after this attacker called the police and reported the incident. “I killed a man. When they beat me, everyone did not care. Now I’m a murderer, is there anyone before that? “Zhang asked the operator. For some unknown reason, the story was hardly covered in the Chinese media.

The wording about the murder can be found in Weibo in English, sometimes in the social network even come across shots from the murder scene. The term in Chinese 宣 恩 杀人 现场 is also not blocked, but does not appear in the general tape as decided by the censors. In other words, users can mention this case, but not the fact that sanctions will not follow.

“Looking for a girl”

According to the Global Times, more than 200 million people in China live without a pair – this is 14% of the total population. Specialists from New South Wales believe that by 2020 men in China will be 35 million more than women.

Against this background, in Weibo appeared euphemism “looking for a girl.” Initially, the phrase meant that a person needs the help of a consultant girl or a waitress, in this sense the term is still prevalent in the south, in Hong Kong and Taiwan. However, since 2013 in mainland China, the euphemism began to imply the search for a prostitute.

Newlyweds posing with wedding certificates. Reuters photo
Newlyweds posing with wedding certificates. Reuters photo
Newlyweds posing with wedding certificates. Reuters photo

The country is actively campaigning for family values, and the authorities are sponsoring activities that help men find a couple. Probably, therefore, the wording for searching for a girl for one night is blocked on social networks.

On the topic of sex is also blocked the wording “without hair.” This term is often used to search for a particular genre of porn, but since the authorities are struggling with erotic content, the term is blocked.

“Rich woman”

In 2011, this formulation led to a large-scale investigation. In rare cases, she describes a wealthy person with a large salary, but basically applies to any girl, wife or daughter of a wealthy businessman or official. The story began in June, when the 20-year-old commercial general manager of the Chinese Red Cross Society, Guo Meimei, began to share in Weibo the details of her life.

Guo Meimei. AFP photo

The girl published photos at the races, in the salons of first-class airplanes, with expensive things or in cars of the brand Lamborghini and Maserati. Weibo users are interested in where the young Meimei has such finances. They found that she met with a member of the board of directors of the company that supplies resources to the Red Cross.

Further investigation revealed large corruption schemes in the organization, which had a large impact on its reputation – by the end of 2011 the amount of all donations to the Red Cross decreased by 60% compared to the previous year.

Guo Meimei. AFP photo
Guo Meimei. AFP photo

During the scandal, the young man Meimei left his post in the supplier company. The girl safely survived the resonance, but in 2014 she was suspected of bets on the World Cup. The prosecutor claimed that Mayma rented an apartment and held card competitions there, despite the almost complete ban on gambling in the country. In September 2015, a 24-year-old girl was sentenced to five years in prison.

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