Selective Blocking of the SCMP?

In the early days of the current Tibetan crisis more than a few bloggers (have) reined in their comments on the crisis for fear that their blogs would be blocked by China’s online censors (thus losing access to a Mainland Chinese audience). Though traditional journalists did not have the same level of concern, I know for fact that several foreign correspondents were expecting their sites (major newspapers) to be blocked in China in retaliation for aggressive coverage of the issues. That this hasn’t happened on a wide scale – the blocking, that is – might be a testament to how little the Chinese authorities fear the English-language media (the number of Chinese who can and do read them is vanishingly small). Whatever the case, it’s a surprise.

But if all is well with media based overseas, the same cannot be said for media based in Hong Kong. Case in point: the South China Morning Post. For the last week, subscribers – like me – have been able to access the paper’s contents without a problem so long as those contents don’t include critical stories about Tibet. Positive stories – say, relatively benign accounts of yesterday’s foreign journalist junket to Lhasa – those get through. Of course,this is nothing new: China’s Great Firewall (or Golden Shield), has imposed content-specific blocks for years (The Atlantic’s Jim Fallows describes the means by which they do this, here). But usually, those blocks apply to an entire site. What I’ve never seen before the current crisis, are blocks that might apply to only a portion of page, or site. Take, for example, a screen shot taken just a few minutes ago, after I tried to access a negative Tibet-related story on the SCMP (please click on the image for the full-sized, detailed image):

scmp_block.jpg

Somehow, someway, the actual content of the story – minus the headline – has been deleted. However, if I access the same story using a proxy (in this case, TOR), the full content is readily available (again, please click the thumbnail for a detailed screen shot).

scmp_tor.jpg

I’d be curious to hear from anyone who is experiencing something similar. It’s possible, I suppose, that this is nothing new, that content-specific blocks like this have been happening for years, and I’ve just been missing them. If that’s the case, please let me know.

6 comments

  1. I think it is filtering of keywords, rather than blocking. A concentration of keywords on one page sets off a filtering mechanism. It has been going on for a long time, but it seems to be more intense now for Tîbet related key words.

  2. Thanks, Jeremy. The idea of blocking out part of a page is new to me – I’m used to losing entire pages, of course – so I guess that’s what threw me here.

  3. We must blame the US for these blocking. If the US scientists didn’t invent “content filtering” in their network equipment, China would not be able to do this kind of blocking at all without making networking impossible in China. It is all US’s fault.

  4. Is it really such a good idea to publish how easy it is to access blocked content?

    On the other hand, had I not been able to read about VPNs on someone’s blog, I wouldn’t have known how it was done!

    I just dread the day that someone works out how to block even our VPNs!

  5. Maxiewawa –

    That’s a fair question. My basic answer is that I am not the first to publish this information. The Fallows article that I reference in the post gives far more detailed information, and other blogs have been more detailed than his. So, I’m not sure that I’m doing any additional damage by putting it out there. I guess we’ll see.

  6. When the SCMP is blocked, either in whole or in part, it really gets me so much more than when a site like CNN is blocked. I mean, I PAY for my SCMP access.
    I think it would be ridiculous, too, to believe that the keepers of the Firewall are unaware of any and all the ways people use to get around the blocks. I have one foreign friend here in Shenzhen that whispers the web address for her favorite anonymizer when someone asks her what she uses.

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