China's censored microblogs back to business as usual

Two of China’s biggest microblogging sites went back to business as usual today after being suspended for three days.

Sina’s and Tencent’s t.qq. banned comments on their sites – which caused a mass outcry about censorship and free speech – following online rumours of a coup in Beijing.

During the suspension, their 700 million users were able to post on their own profiles but couldn’t join in with any comments on anyone else’s accounts.  

The rumours were directed at a well known Communist Party figure, Bo Xilai.

Authorities moved quickly, closing around 12 websites and arresting six people in relation to the rumours, which had caused both sites – the Chinese equivalents to Twitter – to take the action, which they said was aimed at “cleaning up” illegal and harmful information posted on some microblogs .

However, they gave no further details, and it is unclear whether the pair were forced to carry out the suspension by regulators or off their own back after being reprimanded by the government.  

People’s Daily, the voice of the Chinese Communist Party, said in a comment on Saturday: “Internet rumours package lies as truths and change speculation into fact.”

The Chinese government will have learned that, with the internet, it is difficult if not impossible to totally censor ideas or rumours.

Nick Pickles, director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, drew a comparison between the censorship and new laws being proposed in the United Kingdom: “This kind of censorship relies on the same real-time monitoring the British government is talking about introducing in the UK. Privacy is an essential element of freedom of speech.

“Once the capability to monitor is introduced, the pressure will move to control. We have already heard web-blocking proposals to deal with copyright infringement for example, so the experience of Chinese citizens is something that those of us living in democracies should not disregard lightly.”