It’s been 20 years ago Thursday that the brutal crackdown in Tiananmen Square happened, and China, for one, would rather not talk about it. In fact, the Chinese government is trying to make sure no one else does, either, by blocking sites like Twitter, Flickr and even Bing, Microsoft’s new search engine.
What happened at Tiananmen Square in 1989 – the violent suppression of student protestors by the People’s Liberation Army – officially never happened: Textbooks in China omit it and it isn’t in any official state documents. The government denies there was ever a “massacre.” But the Internet and social networking make it very easy to mobilize people and spread information, and if knowledge is power, then the Internet is surely one of the most powerful media for sowing results-oriented dissention across a population.
“Authorities are particularly worried about Twitter because it’s a quick-response tool for Netizens to talk about anything,” Michael Anti, a Beijing-based Chinese journalist and popular blogger, told BusinessWeek. “It’s 140 characters, so it’s fast. [Individual] censorship requires a centralized decision by officials and that takes time. By the time the censor realizes the message is dangerous, there have already been responses, and it’s spreading all over the Internet.”
It’s not just Twitter being censored in the Middle Kingdom: It’s also YouTube, Flickr, about 400 blogs and … Bing. This might actually be a big complement to the new search engine’s effectiveness for sniffing out relevant Web video and content.
Chinese Web surfers are finding ways around the censorship, however, with proxy-server software, and a program called Freegate made specifically to thwart Chinese censors.