Freaky Friday – What it Takes to Censor the Chinese Twitter

It’s no secret that the Chinese government is not a fan of free and unencumbered access to the Web. But unlike North Korea, which restricts Internet access to all but a privileged handful of citizens, China recognizes that you can’t maintain your status as a rising power without you know, email.

So you can actually get on a computer and surf the Web in China, albeit one that is heavily censored. In fact, unlike repressive regimes in say, Syria or Egypt, China has done a fairly good job keeping the conversation under control – i.e. no criticism of the government – even using the Web to boost its legitimacy.

But while it’s well known that the Chinese Internet is heavily policed, we actually don’t know much about how it’s done. Rice University professor Dan Wallach and several colleagues recently set out to measure how censors keep non-approved content from appearing on Weibo – essentially the Chinese version of Twitter.

You can and should check out the entire story here at MIT’s Technology Review. The results are equally fascinating and freaky. Wallach and his team measured the volume of messages as well as the time and frequency of deletions to make conclusions about how Weibo is censored.

To keep tabs on Weibo’s 300 million users, who send 100 million messages per day and 70,000 per minute, Wallach figured that it takes 1,400 censors at any given moment and likely 4,200 each day to scan and delete messages. And roughly 12 percent of all messages are deleted.

I try not to get too political on this copywriting blog. But at least to me, this is very important work if for no other reason than it highlights the fact that a free and open Internet isn’t a given.

And it can’t be taken for granted.