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Academics Launch Fake Social Network to Get an Inside Look at Chinese Censorship

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An artist's impression of the Chinese 'censorship police.'

A Harvard professor launched a social media site so that he could experience and document online censorship in Japan.


Harvard University professor Gary King this year launched a social media site to gain firsthand experience of online censorship in China. King discovered that online censorship is a thriving market in China, with companies competing to provide the best censoring technology and services.

King contracted with a major Chinese provider of Web software to help run his site, and was able to ask customer service representatives about how and when to use the censoring tools. The toolkit the researchers received enabled new posts to be automatically held back for human review based on specific keywords and to be scrutinized based on length as well as the site location on which they appeared. Furthermore, individuals could be singled out for greater censorship based on reputation, IP address, and how recently they had last posted.

Censorship firm representatives told King that a website should employ two or three censors for every 50,000 users to satisfy the government, leading King to estimate that there are about 50,000 to 75,000 censors working at China's Internet companies.

The Harvard team recruited people in China to post 1,200 updates to 100 different social sites, and found that just over 40 percent of the posts were immediately held back by automated censorship tools.

From Technology Review
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Abstracts Copyright © 2013 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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