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Remembering Liu Xiaobo: analyzing censorship of the death of Liu Xiaobo on WeChat and Weibo

Crete-Nishihata, Masashi, Knockel, Jeffrey, Miller, Blake Andrew Phillip ORCID: 0000-0002-4707-0984, Ng, Jason Q., Ruan, Lotus, Tsui, Lokman and Xiong, Ruohan (2017) Remembering Liu Xiaobo: analyzing censorship of the death of Liu Xiaobo on WeChat and Weibo. The Citizen Lab.

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On July 13, 2017, Liu Xiaobo, China’s only Nobel Peace Prize winner and its most famous political prisoner died from complications due to liver cancer. He was detained in December 2008 for his participation with “Charter 08”, a manifesto that called for political reform and an end to one-party rule. In June 2017, eight years after his imprisonment, he was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer. The government of China rejected his request for permission to receive medical attention abroad, for which they were widely criticized. Following his death, news articles reported cases of social media in China blocking references to Liu Xiaobo and his legacy. In this report we analyze censorship related to Liu and his death on two of China’s most popular platforms: WeChat and Sina Weibo. On WeChat, we collected keywords that trigger message censorship related to Liu Xiaobo before and after his death. Before his death, messages were blocked that contained his name in combination with other words, for example those related to his medical treatment or requests to receive care abroad. However, after his death, we found that simply including his name was enough to trigger blocking of messages, in English and both simplified and traditional Chinese. In other words, WeChat issued a blanket ban on his name after his death, greatly expanding the scope of censorship. We documented censorship of images related to Liu on WeChat after his death, and for the first time found images blocked in one-to-one chat. We also found images blocked in group chat and WeChat Moments (a feature that resembles Facebook’s Timeline where users can share updates, upload images, and short videos or articles with their friends), before and after his death. We analyzed search term blocking on Weibo and confirmed that it maintains a blanket ban on searches for Liu Xiaobo’s name. In fact, just his given name of Xiaobo is enough to trigger censorship in English and both Simplified and Traditional Chinese, something that was not true as recently as June 14 according to monitoring by GreatFire. An initial analysis of Weibo’s recommended search keywords, suggests that users continue to have an interest in Liu-related content and use alternative keywords as a workaround. Social media platforms in China regularly censor content related to Liu Xiaobo and his legacy including “Charter 08” and being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize as shown in previous research and user reports. However, the death of Liu marks a particularly critical moment for the Communist Party of China (CPC) and, as a result, Chinese Internet companies are facing direct or indirect government pressure to apply broad restrictions to content related to Liu. In this report, we analyze how WeChat and Weibo adapted and evolved their censorship efforts in response to Liu Xiaobo’s death.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2017 The Authors, Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada
Divisions: Methodology
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Date Deposited: 22 Aug 2019 14:15
Last Modified: 16 May 2024 09:30

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