Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Wikipedia is Not Alone in China

In the WorldViews blog post "Wikipedia largely alone in defying Chinese self-censorship demands", Caitlin Dewey makes several claims deserving response.

Dewey writes:
Most of the sites that operate in China obey censorship rules, which ban information on politically sensitive topics such Tibet, the spiritual movement Falun Gong, and the 1989 protests and crackdown most commonly associated with Tiananmen Square.

When it comes to defying censors outright, Wikipedia is an exception, though China’s Great Firewall also blocks a number of prominent American sites. (That doesn’t necessarily imply a stance against censorship on the blocked site’s part — YouTube and Blogspot are both owned by Google, for instance, which already filters results on its search platform within China.)

1. Google: Google China complies with government censorship laws and does not surface pages related to to banned topics. In January, Google removed a feature that told users when their results were censored.
However, Google does not filter "results on its search platform within China". As Google announced on March 22, 2010:
... earlier today we stopped censoring our search services—Google Search, Google News, and Google Images—on Users visiting are now being redirected to, where we are offering uncensored search in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China and delivered via our servers in Hong Kong.
As far as I can tell, this remains true today.

Dewey's claim that Wikipedia is "an exception" and "largely alone" appears to be specific to "top 10 American Web sites by global traffic" which "operate" in China and do not censor in accordance with China's laws. By "operate", I assume Dewey means "are not blocked" since none of Wikipedia's servers are in China. In regards to Wikipedia, Dewey writes:
Wikipedia doesn’t censor its content in China, regardless of language, though China’s Great Firewall automatically blocks controversial pages. Wikipedia offers an encrypted version of the site to help users evade the firewall.
As Dewey notes,  selected "sensitive" articles are indeed blocked in China -- similar to how Google Search is now selectively blocked by the Great Firewall. But this is not all that is blocked. Wikipedia’s entire encrypted version is now blocked in China.

So yes, Wikipedia does not censor according to Chinese laws. But the same could be said of at least half of the other "top 10 American Web sites by global traffic", including Google Search. And yes, unlike Wikipedia, several of those sites which don't censor according to Chinese laws, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, are entirely blocked by China's Great Firewall. But Wikipedia does not operate normally in China and faces significant blocking despite being partially available. And it is not alone in that respect. Just ask Google.

Update: Dewey provided the following update to her post:
Samuel Wade at the China Digital Times points out that, while Google formally follows local censorship laws, it also quietly redirects Chinese users from to — which helps them avoid mainland filtering.
Hmm... I'll just say that the biggest impact of redirecting users in mainland China to Google's Hong Kong site is it allows Google to legally not censor search results as required by mainland Chinese law. However, the Great Firewall selectively filters those searches. Google offers encrypted search, which would be difficult for the Great Firewall to filter, but that's often entirely blocked by the Great Firewall. I just tried the encrypted search now and was able to successfully search for a typically blocked query. However, I was soon blocked from continued use of Google. This "messy" sort of blocking is very common with Google in China.

Update 2: Dewey's post has been updated again with corrections. For some brief commentary, see my more recent post here.

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