China’s government censored Weibo, the nation’s biggest microblog platform, more on July 1, when record numbers of Hong Kong residents joined the pro-democracy march, than it did on June 4, the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
An average of over 70 out of every 10,000 Weibo posts made on the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover were deleted by the government in Beijing, according to Weiboscope, a University of Hong Kong media project that tracks censorship on the popular social media platform.
The ratio of censored postings – over twice as many as that on an average day – also surpassed that of 64.5 posts out of each 10,000 made on June 4 this year, the anniversary of the Communist Party’s violent Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989.
June 4 is usually the busiest day for national censors to suppress comments bloggers posted on the incident on social media such as Weibo.
Professor Fu King-wa, who administers the HKU media project, said 2,006 posts were taken down by the authorities out of some 282,000 posts Weiboscope tracked on that day. The study is based on a sample of 51,232 selected Chinese microbloggers who have more than 1,000 followers or whose posts are frequently censored.
One specific example was a post by Hong Kong singer and actress Denise Ho showing a selfie taken on the march as she protested against discrimination against homosexuals.
Another notable censored post included a screen grab of Facebook page calling on more members of the public to participate in the march.
Weibo bans users from using search terms related to the demonstration, such as “July 1 March”. Attempts to search are replied to with a message saying “results are not shown according to relevant law and policy”.
In contrast to the censors tightened grip on social networks, China’s official media adopted a different approach to the sensitive issue by attempting to portray July 1 as a day of celebration for Hong Kong’s population.
The flagship television station CCTV ignored the march and broadcast instead the flag-raising ceremony conducted by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying flanked by central government officials stationed in the city.
State-run news agency Xinhua reported on some 200 various celebratory activities held to celebrate Hong Kong’s return to China. Pro-Chinese government paper Wenweipo contributed comprehensive coverage on the PLA garrison’s open day, which coincided the anniversary and protest.
One of the few newspapers in the mainland to feature a detailed report on the march was the Global Times.
Its article nevertheless plays down the protesters’ appeal for “genuine referendum” on the chief executive elections and describes the demonstration as a “hodgepodge” that reflects a wide range of protesters’ appeals, ranging from gay rights and compulsory education to animal protection.
Meanwhile, access to online services such as messaging app Line and photo-sharing site Flickr were also disrupted this week.
Reuters reporters in China were unable to send messages on Line, owned by South Korea’s Naver Corp, and KakaoTalk, owned by South Korean firm Kakao Corp.
Both companies told Reuters they did not know the cause of the disruption or when the services would return to normal.
Users and Reuters reporters also could not access Yahoo’s Flickr photo sharing site and Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud storage service.
“This is not a technical malfunction," said a member of China-based anti-censorship site GreatFire.org, who goes by the pseudonym of Charlie Smith.
“I imagine these latest blocks are attributable to the Hong Kong demonstrations," Smith said, adding that the services may have been blocked because they can be used for photo sharing.
Campaigns to “clean the internet” and get rid of rumour mongering and pornographic material have affected both domestic and overseas internet services.
China has also disrupted a number of Google services in the country for the past month, including its search engine, Gmail e-mail client and its online advertising services.
The Google disruption began in the run-up to the 25th anniversary of government’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
With additional reporting from Reuters