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Chinese Netizens are Finding Ways to Skirt around Censorship

The news media in the U.S. and abroad has kept a watchful eye on China’s “Great Firewall.” Those who are critical of Beijing’s Internet governance policies have zeroed in on censorship issues in particular. What is perhaps as interesting and somewhat under-reported are stories of Chinese citizens attempting to circumvent government censorship.

Recently, NPR had an interesting piece, which detailed the importance and regularity of text messaging to modern Chinese. Correspondent Laura Sydell reports that political activists often utilize SMS technology to organize protests, as online platforms are routinely censored or taken down by government officials. Many citizens also relay criticisms of the regime through their mobile devices, instead of on the Web. Chinese activist Yu Jie says that he often receives “sarcastic jokes about corruption and government inefficiency” via text. It appears that SMS messaging provides a communication channel that is, for now, largely unchecked by state censors.

A Wall Street Journal article details how Chinese netizens have developed new technology that allows users to “write backwards” by flipping sentences for English phrases and shifting to a vertical orientation for sentences written in Chinese. Moreover, some utilize Twitter to send short bits of information at a quick speed, as to avoid censors.

Some sources heed caution, warning others not to be overly optimistic about the ability of Chinese citizens to evade government censorship. Open Net Initiative has tested purportedly unblocked foreign websites inside China, and unfortunately, many of the sites are still inaccessible. Nevertheless, it is interesting to think of how alternative technologies, like SMS and text inversion, allow at least some degree of freedom in a highly monitored digital landscape.

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