China censor’s grip tightening on Internet


HONG KONG — Internet censors in China are becoming more systematic and sophisticated in how they monitor the Web and eradicate content deemed sensitive, according to a Chinese technician working for an Internet firm.

In a report published on Wednesday by Reporters Without Borders and the group China Human Rights Defenders, the unnamed author details the secret workings of a censorship machine that spans the information ministry, the State Council, or Cabinet, the Communist Party’s propaganda department and the police.

“Prior to 2005, the Beijing authorities had not really organized an Internet control system,” the report said.

Now it keeps close tabs on online public opinion, reporting daily and weekly to senior leaders, and employs various targeted tactics to keep Web sites in line in the world’s second largest Internet market, with over 162 million Web users.

Many Web sites receive as many as five messages a day from supervisory bodies instructing them how to handle sensitive issues or ordering to reject, or pull down, certain content.

And the means through which the censors monitor and communicate with the Web sites have multiplied to include weekly meetings, e-mails, online instant messenges through a handful of programs and even SMS text messages, the report said.

After a newspaper reported in 2006 that the Taiwanese electronics firm Foxconn, which makes iPods, mistreated workers, some Web sites received SMS messages saying: “Do not disseminate reports about the Foxconn case so that it is not exploited by those who want independence to advance their cause.”

Some 400-500 “sensitive” or “taboo” words are banned, and Web sites self censor these words to avoid fines, it said.

This year, the Beijing Internet information bureau made directives sharper, dividing them into three types, the first to be executed within five minutes, the second within 10, and the third within a half hour, the report said.

Violators face penalties.

In May, two popular Web sites — Sohu and Bokee — were fined for ignoring a directive not to run reports from sources other than the official Xinhua news agency regarding the death of Huang Ju, a senior leader.

In late 2006, Netease, one of China’s top Web sites, imitated a South Korean site conducting a poll that asked readers if they were reborn, would they want to be Chinese again?

Of the 10,000 who responded, 64 percent said no, for various reasons. Netease had to fire the editor of its culture section and shut down the debate section, the report said.

For further control, the State Council Information Office organizes propaganda courses “to encourage better censorship and self-censorship practices”, as has the municipal information office in Beijing, where most of China’s biggest Web portals are based, the report said.