China: Rebecca McKinnon's Blog Censorship Research

Rebecca McKinnon has published an extensive and densely informative blog post in which she shares findings of her ongoing Chinese blog censorship research. She is developing a more in-depth academic paper for release in 2009, and welcomes feedback and reaction to what she's posted now, including the presentation slides which contain more concrete, visual examples of how the censorship works. Snip:

All Chinese blog-hosting companies are required by government regulators to censor their users' content in order to keep their business licenses. But as Liu discovered, they all make different choices not only about how to implement censorship requirements, but also how to treat the users who get censored.

Most Chinese bloggers who want an audience inside mainland China use domestic Chinese blog-hosting services – only a very tiny minority use overseas services like Blogger or because they tend to be blocked, and even fewer have the tech skills to do their own custom WordPress installation on their own rented server space. The aim of my research was to look at the Chinese blog-hosting services (which includes foreign brands offering services inside China to the Chinese market) and establish how much variation there is in terms of what gets censored and how it gets censored. Since it's not in the interest of people who work at blog-hosting companies to tell the truth about these things in great detail to a foreign researcher, I decided that the best way to do this would be to post a range of content across a number of blog-hosting services and track who censored what and how. With the help of John Kennedy, Ben Cheng, and some student research assistants, my team posted more than 100 pieces of content – passages from news items, blogs, and chatrooms of varying political sensitivity – consistently across 15 different Chinese blog-hosting platforms. We found that censorship levels and methods vary tremendously from company to company. I have written about some of the interesting findings that came up as we went along here, here, and here.

If I publish a chart naming who censors more than whom, it is likely that those who censor less will get in trouble with the authorities. Therefore in the chart at right I have changed all the company names to letters. Of 108 pieces of content on a variety of public affairs and news-related subjects from a variety of sources (ranging from Xinhua to dissident websites), the most censor-happy company deleted over half, while the most laid-back company censored only one. (Note that I only posted one item about FLG and one about Tiananmen because most bloggers expect those to be censored – it's more interesting to see how censorship works on topics that Chinese bloggers interested in current events might write about.)

Studying Chinese blog censorship (RConversation)