It's an Internet crackdown Party, more so lately than usual

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 November, 2012, 12:06pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 January, 2013, 9:45pm

Last month, people in China starting complaining about greater than usual difficulty in circumventing blocks against web sites based outside the mainland.

While they were discovering their VPN now no longer functioned, the GFW reached an unprecedented height when the New York Times website was blocked.

Bloomberg used to do a lot of business on the mainland much of which has dried up since the Bloomberg News website was blocked this summer as part of retaliation for a report on the hundreds of millions of US dollars in assets held by the family of China's next president, Xi Jinping.

The battering VPN service providers have taken recently was described by one well-known company as "one of the most severe” it has seen in this Wall Street Journal piece which shows how widely such businesses and their users have been affected.

As you can guess, it all has to do with the Communist Party's 18th Party Congress, which began yesterday.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which plays a role in regulating the internet, even announced last month that the internet would be cut off from the rest of the world for the duration of the Party Congress. It turns out that was just a poor choice of words, but when people also started complaining that Gmail had become inaccessible, it didn't seem so far-fetched. 

Those who closely monitor China's neverending neverending campaign against online free speech, such as David Bandurski at the China Media Project and Fei Chang Dao's William Farris, can demonstrate in great detail how companies like Baidu and Sina Weibo have been recruited to assist authorities in their censorship efforts to shut down discussions regarding Politburo Standing Committee hopefuls, former leaders, even mention of the Party Congress itself.

Arguably, the most significant of these recent developments is that Sina has backslid and now conceals its efforts to filter search results.

Chinese authorities like the internet because it simultaneously creates the illusion of free speech and helps in tracking down critics complete with chat transcripts to be used as evidence in court.

Here's Xinhua yesterday with its cyber-fantastic narrative:

The country's 538 million "web onlookers" have helped advance social progress via the Internet in recent years.

Shu tweeted a picture of another delegate wearing smart white clothing. "She is the Party chief of an ethnic minority village. This is her first time in Beijing."

The picture gained praise from web followers. "What a vivid report! It's much better than the TV coverage," a comment replied.

On the narrative side of Chinese internet censorship, the pro-authoritarian method is to point to the absence of discussion of heavily censored topics - such as human rights or democratic governance - as clear indication of lack of interest in such debates.

Holes in the narrative appear on occasion - like right now, for instance, when we have "democracy" as the top issue of concern on this People's Daily online public opinion poll set up for the 18th Party Congress.

Or, as former spokesperson for the US embassy in Beijing Richard Buangan pointed out this week: