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China: Not Worried About Twitter's Decision to Self-Censor

Categories: East Asia, China, Freedom of Speech, Law, Technology

Twitter's announcement Thursday [1] that the site will begin censoring content according to the relevant laws, regulations and policies [2] of each country in which it has users, was followed not only by American netizens [3], but discussed as far away as China.

Although Twitter remains blocked [4] in China, the site's Chinese-language users, an assorted bunch [5], moved quickly to source people to translate [6] [zh] the company's statement and figure out what it might mean—a Twitter.cn, for example, or, as Ai Weiwei [7] wonders, if the time has come to move on in search of a new platform with more respect for its users [8] [zh].

Wen Yunchao [9], a well-known Internet activist from Guangzhou now working in a sort of domestic exile in Hong Kong as a producer for a new TV station, posted his thoughts on Twitter's new censorship measures to his Twitter account (@wenyunchao) several hours ago:

Image from Weibo [10]

Image from Weibo


1. [11] From the looks of Twitter's announcement, this is an improvement. Previously, a tweet could be deleted at the request of a country's government, leaving no one in the world able to see it. Now, only the users in that specific country won't be able to see it the information in question.


2. [12] Twitter's new censorship policy won't affect current Chinese-language users. It won't be easy for Twitter to determine through technical means which of its users come from China, as they have to scale the GFW [13] to access the site, meaning the company won't have enough information to know who in China to block information from.


3. [14] If Twitter decides to set up operations in China, there are at least two obstacles it won't be able to overcome. The first is that there's no way of resolving the conflict between black box censorship mechanisms and transparent regulations. Unless Twitter were to do like Google and set up a joint venture in China, it's going to have to deal with lawsuits from all the users who get singled out.


4. [15] The second is that even if Twitter had as much PR sway over the government as Sina [16], it still wouldn't be able to commit as vast an amount of resources as Sina has to censoring content. Nor would Chinese authorities permit a platform like Twitter, far more open than Sina, to provide services within China.