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China Steps Up Online Censorship; Shuts Websites And Social Media Accounts

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

China has further tightened its grip on the internet. In the latest censorship drive carried out by the country’s regulators, the Chinese authorities have shut down more than 50 websites as well as dozens of social media accounts. The move comes soon after Beijing blocked access to the Gmail service within the entire country.

Confirming the move through its website, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) said that the blocked pages included 24 full-fledged websites, 9 columns (or channels) operating on established websites as well as 17 public pages published on the social messaging app Weixin (WeChat to the outside world). Xinhua, the official news agency of the country, said that the Weixin accounts were closed over a period of last two months. A spokesperson for the CAC said that the watchdog would regularly publish a list of offending websites and continue to take action against the “black list” of violators.

CAC said that the action was taken since some of the sites and accounts published sensitive political content without permission or posted adult content which violated the country’s laws. A few other sites and accounts were banned since they published fake information while pretending to be government’s or media’s official representative. Other offences that caused shutdown of accounts or websites included publishing of gambling or fraud related information.

China is well known for its aggressive censorship and crackdown on websites and online services which fail to follow the official guidelines issued by the government. While the government usually blocks political, adult, violence and gambling related sites; personal accounts of Chinese netizens could be blocked for seemingly innocuous actions like signing of online petitions, initiating communications with groups that are not based in the country or even calling for reforms and end to corruption.

The Chinese authorities regularly carry out drives to block sites, social accounts and services (including mobile apps) that violate the country’s laws and the government’s stance on a variety of issues. Just last year, CAC closed more than 1.8 million instant messaging and social networking accounts after they were found to be violating the anti-pornography campaign launched by the watchdog. Xinhua also reported that the country’s authorities received more than 11 million tip-offs that were related to harmful content on the web. Critics of the country’s censorship laws say that the Chinese government is restricting freedom of speech even further with each censorship drive. However, the Chinese officials justify the censorship by claiming that controls on the internet were necessary to preserve the stability of the country.

With across the board censorship, China is a very difficult market to crack for most online service providers. However, it is also a very lucrative one since there are over 600 million internet users in the country. It is also a foregone conclusion that websites and service providers need to toe the government’s official line otherwise they risk getting banned in no time. The Chinese authorities have shown time and again they won’t hesitate to block even big and established websites if they fail to follow the guidelines issued by the government.

February 17, 2015

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