China’s Net Nannies in full force after riot in Southern China

By: yushu on 2 July 2008

China has tightened control on online information concerning a massive riot in southern China that heightened security concerns just 39 days before the start of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Last weekend, about 30,000 angry residents in Weng'an County in Guizhou province smashed government buildings and torched several police cars to protest against the alleged cover-up of a girl’s death. Although the Wall Street Journal reports on netizens’ clever uses of technology to circulate information on the incident, the gears of the government’s information control machinery appear to be churning in all the usual ways.

Last weekend, only one piece of news was released by the official Xinhua News Agency, describing those protesters as “some people who did not know about the exact context of what had happened” and failing to discuss any investigation of teenage girl’s death. In contrast to the silence of state-run media, numerous photos and video clips quickly appeared on various online forums and personal blogs, cataloguing thousands of people surrounding a police headquarters, riot police guarding the burning shell of the building, and charred overturned police vehicles. Unconfirmed and conflicting stories about the girl’s death were also circulated on the Internet on last Saturday, and netizens demanding justice were very angry at the government cover-up of information. The following is a screenshot of one online forum in China at 17:03 on June 29. Among 20 posts in that page, 15 are related to the Weng’an riot.

However, on Monday, many if not most postings concerning this incident had been deleted from online forums and blog entries--only a few references could be still found on Monday. Many online forums and blog services appear to have listed “Weng’an” as a sensitive news keyword and warn users not to discuss the Weng’an riot. On Monday, June 30, an ONI researcher from inside China tested five popular blog websites by posting a paragraph from Hong Kong Ming Pao’s news coverage containing with word “Weng’an.” Tianya and Kaidi did not allow him to post a paragraph from, and the rest ( Blogbus , Blogcn , and Mop) deleted the post within 24 hours. The error message read: “This post contains sensitive words, please inspect!”

Although hundreds of video clips appear on YouTube, none appear on two of biggest China’s domestic video-sharing websites, and ONI researchers from Beijing and Nanjing have not found any video clips concerning the Guizhou riot on these two websites since Saturday. Although Chinese Internet users still can access YouTube, they cannot access to certain video clips about the Weng’an incident (e.g. 1, 2, 3) on YouTube. Information relating to the incident appears to have been made a keyword that triggers a reset connection-- once our ONI researcher searched for “Weng’an” on YouTube, his connection to YouTube would be severed for several minutes and then users would receive the following error message reading “This page cannot be displayed.”

The Chinese government also appears to have censored search results about “Weng’an” on Baidu, the most popular search engine in China. When “Weng’an” is entered as a search term, Baidu returns results that include mainly news from state-run media. showed similar results. Information sources from dissenting or foreign websites that were either blocked or did not appear on Baidu or did appear in search results for

But when users entered other words, such as “Weng’an riot”, they could receive some uncensored results from online forums or personal blogs, however, most of these have already been deleted and cannot be accessed successfully.

Since Monday, the government and state-run media have increasingly reported more news and governments’ announcements regarding Weng’an riot on Chinese news websites every day, but most news websites are still not allowing Internet users to leave comments.

On Monday, China responded by launching a nationwide campaign to defuse protest ahead of the Olympics. According to Hong Kong’s Ming Pao paper, President Hu Jintao required the local government in Guizhou to release information in a timely manner to lead the public opinion instead of blocking information. But so far, there are still few signs of relaxed information control in Chinese cyberspace over this incident.