China’s Internet censors are really outdoing themselves with the Southern Weekend scandal. Not only have they blocked searches for “Southern Weekend” on Sina Weibo and other microblogs, they’re making some attempts to block discussion within the Chinese diaspora.
Some writers at Tech in Asia conducted a little experiment today with WeChat (Weixin), a Chinese texting app developed by Tencent, and found trying to type Southern Weekend in Chinese resulted in this Orwellian message:
The message “南方周末” you sent contains restricted words. Please check it again.
Not easily defeated, they tried again.
We’ve tested it out going from users in China to Thailand (blocked), Thailand to China (blocked), and even Thailand to Singapore (blocked); the prohibited words are not sent at all. The name of the magazine can be sent in English.
Thoughts on why it’s not blocked in English?
In related matters, China Digital Times has a full rundown of search terms blocked on Sina Weibo thanks to Southern Weekend:
- south (南): nán
- place (方): fāng
- week (周): zhōu
- end (末): mò
January 7 onwards
- nf + zm
- read and understand China (读懂中国): Southern Weekly’s motto is “Here, read and understand China” (在这里，读懂中国)
- China dream (中国梦): The title of the original Southern Weekly editorial was “China’s Dream, the Dream of Constitutionalism” (中国梦宪政梦).
- constitutional government (宪政): Also translated as “constitutionalism.”
- censor (审查)
- propaganda department (宣传部)
- Central Propaganda [Department] (中宣)
- violate the constitution (违宪)
- dedication message (献词)
- message of greeting (贺词)
Nonetheless, South China Morning Post assures us that celebrities are finding their way to voice their opinions via social media:
[Former Google China chief Li Kaifu], a Taiwanese-born American, said on his microblog: “From now on, I will only talk about east, west and north, as well as Monday through to Friday” – omitting references to the south or the weekend. The newspaper’s Chinese name is literally translated as “Southern Weekend”.
Personally, I think “restricted words” sounds like a great title for a high school poem, or a linguistics dissertation.
UPDATE, 1/12, 2:09 pm: Tencent called the case a “glitch,” but Tech in Asia replies, “But there’s clear evidence (see the screenshot collage above) of very specific ‘sensitive’ phrases being blocked by the app – particularly the Chinese name of the outspoken magazine Southern Weekend.”
Now China’s WeChat App is Censoring Its Users Globally (Tech in Asia)
Just tested sending it (in Chinese) from my Weixin to another friend in China and it went through just fine, no warning message. It might depend on who is doing the sending? Still an interesting observation, but I don’t think it’s necessarily widespread.
Testing for censorship? What banned terms did you use? Often these terms are shifting in and out of the banned list, its definitely not consistent.
I’m guessing she used 南方周末
I used those characters and was also not blocked from sending them
Not to say the potential is not there – but this time wasn’t
Weixin is like a local chat app, right? Say if you were on a subway, you could talk anonymously with other people on the train?
I saw a news report about it on the telly; it was full of doom and gloom and that ominous “low cello” rumble that signifies that you should be afraid. It warned people not to use it because you will meet anonymous people…. who will rape, rob, and kill you. Maybe not it that order.
That report was because it provides your location info, I guess like gps. Different issue from censorship.
Absolutely different, comrade. I agree with you.
I’m asking as I suspect it is the same app that is now being targeted for censorship. That report I watched is something I had considered a scare tactic to get the citizenry to stop using that “social media fad”.
As its an app and not physically based (there’s a better word for it, I’m sure) in any one spot, results may vary depending upon where you’re standing.
Again, I’m asking as I don’t use it. But: here we are back at the censorship topic again.
Ah, I was a bit confused. But yeah, its on your phone and provides your location info cuz your phone has that. Or so I heard.
I wouldn’t touch any of this stuff with a ten foot pole, personally. I am not app-enabled, not yet at least. Maybe by 2020 or so.
If you enabled that function, yes.
But if you don’t want to chat up others, you don’t have to use it.
Tried it, and the message was sent out normally with these Chinese characters
I was in Hong Kong recently and wrote a message to a friend, but ran it through google translator first. I think I misspelled Hong Kong because I was blocked with the “restricted words” message. I back translated to see what was wrong and the words “Fal*n G**g stared back from my translator in English.