Most people in the world who get into trouble on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites fail to exercise a bit of healthy self-censorship. A new Carnegie Mellon University study has identified the 295 words and phrases the Chinese government looks for when it steps in and forcibly blocks communication between its own citizens.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that the list is home to known controversial terms like "Falun Gong" but also includes "iodized salt." And strangely enough, they both have become hot button search items.
The Falun Gong is a dissident religious group labeled a cult by the Chinese government, while iodized salt is one of the most common household items in the modern world. But it was also part of a rampant rumor in China after last year's nuclear plant meltdown in Japan, in which people falsely claimed that iodized salt could reduce radiation poisoning.
"The Chinese government came in, put their foot down and said don't believe these rumors. After that, iodized salt became a sensitive topic and it was highly likely a message would be deleted if it discussed salt," said David Bamman, the study's co-author, in an interview with the Gazette. The study results were first published in the online journal First Monday.
The study's authors based their findings on data collected from the Chinese micro-blogging site Sina Weibo. While Twitter has a purported 300 million users worldwide, Sina Weibo has 300 million in China alone. Even with the rampant Chinese government censorship, Sina Weibo's stock has soared recently with news that 50 million of its 300 million users have joined in the past three months alone, making it the third most popular site in China.
The study looked at more than 57 million messages posted on Sina Weibo during a three-month period last year.
When breaking down the messages to match with the popular political and social terms, the research team found that 212,583 out of 1.3 million checked messages, roughly 16 percent, had been deleted by the Chinese government. And 54 percent of all messages sent from Tibet had been deleted.
Study co-author Noah Smith said most examinations of Chinese Internet censorship look at the sites the government has blocked outright. So the authors instead wanted to process a hard statistical analysis of what the Chinese government was doing to censor content on sites it lets the public at large access.
A 2005 Open Net study declared that China has the most-sophisticated level of Internet censorship in the world.
"The rise of domestic Chinese micro-blogging sites has provided a unique opportunity to systematically study content censorship in detail," Smith told the Gazette.
The Chinese government is not shy about its Internet censorship, even launching an official campaign known as the Golden Shield Project, or "Great Firewall." The government has announced that as of March 16, it will require all Sina Weibo users to publicly use their real names on all accounts.
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