China is known to have stepped up its internet censorship ahead of the June 4 anniversary of the deadly Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Each year, its censors go on high alert to erase any direct, indirect or disguised reference to the 1989 incident, in which the People’s Liberation Army fired on peaceful demonstrators for democracy in the heart of Beijing. .
But for the first time this year, a leading social media platform took the unusual step of preemptively silencing popular accounts simply because they were influential, even though they hadn’t posted anything. politically sensitive.
On Wednesday morning, many Douban users received an unexpected message from the platform indicating that their ability to post had been temporarily suspended before and after the anniversary date.
“This account has been muted for four days in accordance with the principles of the community guidelines as of June 2, 2021,” the post said, without further explanation, according to numerous screenshots and personal testimonials at Variety.
A prominent Douban user with nearly 10,000 subscribers who writes the most actively on cinema said the move was “totally unexpected”.
“The massive June 2 ban was a first for the platform,” he said, refusing to give his real name because of the political sensitivity of the subject. “Although at the beginning of June each year, many Chinese gaming forums and bulletin boards are still conveniently under ‘site maintenance’ or preventing users from posting, this is the first time that a platform has been released. form of social media like Douban is taking the step of actively banning the posting by certain users.
Some users and cinephiles always clever of Douban nevertheless managed to mark the taboo anniversary by wishing a happy birthday to the Chinese director Bi Gan (“Kaili Blues”). He was born on June 4, 1989.
Chinese social media platforms are responsible for conducting their own censorship and may face heavy fines or other penalties for not doing it enough and letting sensitive posts slip through the cracks.
Douban has long been prized by users for its vibrant community and discussions of arts and culture through forums, blogs, ratings, and reviews. But now it is starting to become even more content cautious than competing sites.
Many Douban users have strongly criticized this decision.
Some have pointed out that the account banning was not even a very effective means of censorship, as it actually highlighted rather than obscured the anniversary by generating a voice response from users and enticing those who didn’t. were perhaps unaware of the date to understand why they had been banned.
“People weren’t even necessarily going to write anything ‘illegal’ anyway, but this censorship measure essentially reveals what they intend to hide. Each act of erasing actually makes the thing they are trying to erase even more visible, ”one wrote.
In a quickly censored comment, another lamented: “The murderer always remembers the date of the crime more clearly than the families of the victims themselves.
Tank Man Vs. “The World of Tanks”
Douban is not alone in taking extra precautions this year, which marks another politically sensitive anniversary – the 100th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Numerous other apps, sites and games have announced that they have disabled threads, forums and commenting features for the first week of June, frequently blaming “site maintenance” or nebulous “special circumstances”.
Platforms such as the ubiquitous Wechat and video games have also temporarily disabled features that allow users to change their profile pictures or personal avatars and usernames, lest they be manipulated into doing so. reference to the unspoken events of June 4.
Douyu, one of the country’s most popular live streaming platforms, was virtually unrecognizable on Friday. Censors had stripped him entirely of the bullet-point comments that typically abound so widely in his videos that they often obscure the content underneath.
Notably, the popular massively multiplayer online game “World of Tanks” announced on its official Weibo account on Monday that it would apparently be shutting down its in-game chat functions until June 8 due to “maintenance … to offer you a better experience “. The game was developed by Wargaming, a Belarusian company based in Cyprus with a branch in Chicago.
Tanks were deployed against protesters in Tiananmen Square, captured in one of photojournalism’s most iconic footage, the “Tank Man” photo, in which a lone protester blocks a procession of them.
Over the past three decades, Hong Kong has held a huge candlelight vigil in the city center to mark Tiananmen’s anniversary, but that long-standing tradition is changing.
Large crowds attended last year despite the event being banned amid the pandemic and Beijing’s tightening political grip on the semi-autonomous territory. This year, it was banned again in the name of the coronavirus, even though Hong Kong has maintained an average of less than 20 new cases per week since March, and has marked zero untraceable cases of local transmission in more than a month.
Local security authorities have said participating in or posting a vigil could be sentenced to up to five years in prison as acts violating COVID-19 restrictions as well as the draconian law on the national security.
Two dozen prominent pro-democracy figures who attended last year’s vigil are currently in prison for organizing and unauthorized assembly.
Macau has also generally held a formal memorial, but this year banned it, stating that such an event would violate local criminal laws.
Meanwhile, even small-scale Tiananmen-related events are becoming increasingly difficult in Hong Kong. Censors in the Territory last week issued warnings to a union of hospital workers planning to show two films linked to the crackdown – the 1992 documentary “I Have Graduated” and the 2001 feature film “Conjugation” – stating that the doing so without prior authorization could result in fines. and other consequences.
In late May, Hong Kong police also used the National Security Act to attempt to take down a pro-democracy website hosted outside the territory and operated by people based abroad. The Israel-based ISP first complied, but then backtracked.