In recent years, news articles about COVID-19 have been increasingly censored by Chinese media. This censorship is often aimed at medical professionals but has also been applied to journalists and social media users.
Censorship in China is a complex process that is often rooted in the country’s legal system. But it is also a tool for political and economic protection.
The rewriting of the Covid-19 story
The Chinese government has long been accused of underreporting the number of Covid-19 cases. However, an unconfirmed report from the New York-based anti-communist Epoch Times claims that Chinese authorities may be undercounting infection rates by up to 520% in Shandong province.
China’s censorship is quietly rewriting the Covid-19 story, attempting to silence activists who question the outbreak’s draconian control strategy. These activists include doctors who advocate for a more rational approach to epidemic prevention.
In response to the rise of COVID-19-related misinformation, China’s censors have tightened their control over social media and other online platforms. They have cut off network access, censored content and arrested people for violating Party rules.
Censorship of social media
Censorship is a major issue in China, where many people are under pressure to censor their online content. Those who speak out against the government face legal repercussions and can even be imprisoned.
When it comes to social media, censorship is more prevalent than many people realize. In fact, a recent study found that more than 2,100 keywords related to a variety of topics were banned on WeChat between January and May 2020.
To keep their platforms free of information the Chinese government considers to be harmful, social media companies must abide by the country’s censorship laws. That can lead to censorship of politically sensitive content or, worse, to the shutdown of entire platforms and websites.
Censorship of the press
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is adept at influencing media content and narratives about its country abroad, through covert means like propaganda and censorship. They use proxies – including technology companies, advertisers, and foreign governments – to limit or prevent the spread of unfavorable news.
Censorship is a form of government control that includes both negative and positive restrictions on what information can be published. It primarily involves the publicity department of the CCP, which employs millions of “public sentiment analysts” to monitor online discussion and decide what topics can be discussed and how they should be portrayed.
As Chinese censors are trained to spot information that angers the state, it is easy for them to shut down websites and social media accounts. This is especially true in times of heightened political tension, such as the June 4 anniversary of Tiananmen Square or Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement protests.
Censorship sounds like something that takes place under the cover of night, executed by faceless authorities who strike without logic or warning. But that isn’t always the case.
Researchers at Citizen Lab, a research lab focused on digital technologies and human rights, have been tracking social media censorship in China for years. They have a particular interest in censorship around the COVID-19 outbreak.
The government has deployed a variety of methods to suppress information related to the outbreak, including keyword-based censorship and online attacks.
This strategy targets a variety of groups and individuals, ranging from journalists to bloggers to independent websites.
As a result, many people who are critical of the government are often unable to share their opinions publicly.
Censorship is usually done in the name of protecting public safety, but it can also serve to protect a government’s business interests. For example, it can help a government keep corruption scandals out of the news or to assign blame for grievances towards a specific group, such as migrants or ethnic minorities.