Can Chinese censorship ever contain social media?

The Economist brings attention the recent arrest and trial of activist Pu Zhiqiang, and the role of social media – specifically, Weibo, China’s Twitter but censored:

Social-media messages relating to Mr Pu were quickly purged from the internet. Yet it is likely that some were seen by many people before disappearing. Some sensitive postings were retweeted by users with large followings before they were eventually deleted, suggesting that censors occasionally failed to keep up. “If you can be found guilty on the basis of a few Weibo postings, then every Weibo user is guilty, everyone should be rounded up,” wrote a Beijing-based journalist to his more than 220,000 followers. “I don’t understand the law, but I do know that [handling Mr Pu this way] was absolutely against the spirit of rule by law,” said Zhang Ming, a politics professor in Beijing, to his following of nearly 790,000 people.

Mr Pu’s prosecutors also provided evidence of the censors’ weaknesses. They said one of his allegedly criminal messages, which suggested that a terrorist attack in 2014 may have reflected failings in the government’s policies in the western region of Xinjiang, had garnered 1,930 retweets—remarkable given Mr Pu’s well-known propensity to criticise officialdom.

It’s a stark contrast to see economic freedom accelerate in China without freedom of speech. All the stories we read and hear about startups, the housing boom, the rise of the middle class – remember they’re all happening behind the Great Firewall of China.


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