The internet is a wonderful, powerful tool for free speech—until it's censored.
Today, on the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, the Chinese government is taking extra pains to censor any discussion of the government massacre that occurred 24 years ago.
Internet censors have blocked a list of search terms on Weibo—China's microblog—including "today," "special day," "remember," and various code numbers for July 4, the date of the protests. (The list is long
Because some Chinese people make a tradition to light a candle in their home, or wear black on the anniversary, they also blocked the words "black shirt" and "candle" and even candle emoticons.
It's so bad some Twitter and Weibo users are now referring to the Tiananmen anniversary as "National Amnesia Day." To mock the blatant censorship, a Twitter user posted a parody of the iconic photograph of a man standing in front of four tanks, but replaced the tanks with big yellow ducks. The image quickly went viral, and now the Chinese government has banned
the duck meme, too.
The government has attempted to censor any mention of Tiananmen Square for years. Chinese bloggers first found ways around this by referring to the event as "64," for June 4. When the government caught on to that, they switched to "535," for May 35. Unfortunately, it looks like that cat's out of the bag too. From the Atlantic
Alas, it appears that China's ingenious netizens will have to go back to the drawing board; according to Shanghaiist, censors have caught on to "535" and have even begun deleting the roman numeral rendering of the Tiananmen date. On the Chinese internet, no clever ruse lasts forever.
I remain hopeful that the creative and innovative potential of the web will outpace those who try to stamp it out. You can stamp out one thing, but another will pop up in its place—like a game of whack-a-mole for free speech.
Social media has clearly proven to be a powerful tool for dissidents. It helped fuel the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Arab Spring protests. We're seeing its use again now in Turkey, where tens of thousands of people are demonstrating at Taksim Square.
The power of social media has Turkey's prime minister shaking in his boots just like the Chinese authorities. This week Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan went as far as to call Twitter a menace.
"Now we have a menace that is called Twitter," he said. "To me, social media is the worst menace to society."
Hey, that's got to mean something's working.
Top photo via Twitter/weibo.com/weibolg