Many foreigners who live in China question what content is being targeted by the government’s censors and how the blacklist content changes with the current events throughout the world.
Researchers here in China began cultivating a list of keywords by using reverse engineering and they came up with approximately 4000 of them. They are keywords that the Chinese Government has been censoring over the last year and a half. The Chinese Government has also been using their supercomputer technology to monitor various instant messaging platforms including Skype to gather data on their users in China.
The researchers by using their reverse engineering techniques such as packet sniffing have captured packets of information as it passes through a network. It gave them insight as to what the Chinese Government is searching for over the internet.They also found that approximately 20% of the censored words deal with technology sharing - particularly on open forums where users want to exchange information freely. Some of the technology deals with URL addresses, spyware, and particular technical terms. Some of the censored keywords or should I say blocked sites are ‘Chinese language Wikipedia,’ ‘Tweeter,’ ‘Google Blogger,’ ‘YouTube,’ and ‘Facebook,’ extremely popular websites dedicated to the open dissemination of data and information. Many westerners take these websites for granted while the Chinese Government sees them as a potential threat to its national security.
On the Tenth and Twentieth anniversary of the Tianmen Square protest it became quite difficult to gain information on the historical event in China. Many News organizations throughout the world covered the Tiananmen Square anniversary date. China, however, is doing everything it can to delete the historical event from its country’s memory.
The researchers also discovered generic terms are being monitored online such as ‘system,’ ‘administrator,’ and ‘system notification.’ It’s believed that the reason the Chinese Government is monitoring and gathering data on those using those keywords is to catch hackers. Who are attempting to gain access to sensitive online sites and to prevent them from hacking online user accounts.
It is interesting to note that the keyword list fluctuates in response to world events. For instance, in 2010 during the Arab Spring uprising 69 new keywords were added in order to monitor ‘Jasmine Rallies’ that were being organized in China.
The organizers of those rallies wanted to protest against the Chinese Government. They used various instant message platforms as a means to communicate with other ‘Jasmine’ members. Hundreds of organizers were arrested throughout China before the ‘Jasmine Rallies’ ever got off the ground. It was due to China’s ability to monitor their citizens’ communications.
In May of 2011 the Chinese Government widened its Keyword list in the hope of cracking down on potential mobilization of protests aimed at embarrassing the Chinese Government.
In the United States our National Security Agency has been using similar technology to data-mine keywords that can possibly pose a threat against our own National security. However, the technology was never used to prevent peaceful protests against perceived injustices.
I showed my students here in Suzhou, China, historical video clips of protesters protesting against the Vietnam War - the videos were taken in 1968. My students were fascinated by the protesters style of dress, and the language being used by the angry demonstrators. The student protesters in the videos stood up defiantly against their own Government. That is something my students could never imagine doing here in China.
We Americans have the freedom to protest because it comes with living in a free society. Our freedom is something most Americans take for granted until they travel abroad to more restrictive environments.
There are many good things about living in Suzhou, China, though, like its low crime, beautiful scenery, and most of all its peaceful culture. It's a place I have come to love and appreciate due to the beautiful people who walked into my heart during my stay here.
China’s censorship, however, is something I’ll never get used too due to my ‘proud to be an American’ upbringing and that is certainly a good thing.
- Always with love from Suzhou, China
Thomas F O’Neill
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