China Censors Web Coverage of Tibet Protests

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Part of a Chinese crackdown on coverage of protests in Tibet involves blocking access to the Web. Analysts say China has the most sophisticated Internet censoring system of any nation.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Part of China's crackdown includes blocking access to information about Tibet on the Internet. Within China, fans of YouTube have suddenly found that they cannot reach the site. Message board postings, critical of the government, have been taken down.

NPR's Laura Sydell looks at how the Chinese area able to filter the Web.

LAURA SYDELL: Here in the U.S., go to Google, then put Tibet and protest into the search engine. Up come dozens of stories and news videos about the recent unrest.

Unidentified Man: According to students for Free Tibet, about 2,000 protesters trooped to the streets earlier today. They were there for about three hours. They flew the Tibetan flags…

SYDELL: Put those same terms into a search engine in China…

Mr. ROBERT FARIS (Research Fellow, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard Law School; Contributor, OpenNet Initiative): They won't get any results back - their connection will be dropped.

SYDELL: Robert Faris is a contributor to the OpenNet Initiative, which studies Internet filtering around the world. Faris says China has the most sophisticated Internet-censoring system of any nation in the world.

Mr. FARIS: They have very, very talented computer engineers that know how the Internet work. This is a home-grown strategy for blocking Internet content.

SYDELL: Cutting off searches is only part of a multi-pronged strategy the Chinese use, says Faris. They also blocked specific Internet sites like YouTube. When someone in China tries to go to YouTube.com, they get a message saying, server not found.

Sometimes, if they get on a blocked site, the connection will suddenly drop. The government has a much easier time with Web sites that are owned by Chinese companies.

Mr. FARIS: The local Chinese video-sharing sites will be regulated much more intensely than YouTube and will self-censor their material.

SYDELL: The Chinese branches of Yahoo and Google also self-censor. Chinese censors do sweeping searches of message boards erasing postings critical of the government, says Vincent Brossel, of Reporters without Borders. But Brossel says the government won't erase hate speech against Tibetans.

Mr. VINCENT BROSSEL (Reporters Without Borders): When you attack and you (unintelligible) to kill the Tibetan separatists, you have a way to get it posted.

SYDELL: The Chinese system for censoring the Internet isn't perfect. But it's hard to get around so most Chinese don't bother. Josh Rosenzweig is with the Dui Hua Foundation, which investigates human rights in China. He says the Internet is simply part of China's increasingly affluent lifestyle.

Mr. JOSHUA ROSENZWEIG (Manager of Research and Programs, Dui Hua Foundation): The majority of Chinese people use the Internet for entertainment, for study about other things that are not sensitive for buying goods and services.

SYDELL: Rosenzweig says most Chinese people aren't motivated to jump through the government's hoops to get more political information, so they are sympathetic to the government's position on Tibet. And as an example, he points to a recent concert in China by the singer, Bjork, when she shouted, free Tibet from the stage, her Chinese audience was insulted.

Laura Sydell, NPR News.

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