Sina Weibo Censoring Photos, Searches for Hong Kong?


In a development that we’re sure is totally unrelated to the utterly massive anti-government protests in Hong Kong during yesterday’s handover anniversary, Sina Weibo seems to have gotten very weird about Hong Kong.

Or first inkling that something was up was this tweet:

We’re still working to confirm whether or not that’s true, but it got us interested enough to try a search for “Hong Kong,” and that’s when things got really strange.

Usually, search terms are either fully permitted or fully blocked, meaning that when you search for something, you either get all the results or nothing at all. Oddly, though, searching for Hong Kong returns a full first page with just three results, and although it indicates there are additional pages of results, as soon as you click onto the next page, you get a “no results found” error, as indicated in the screenshots below.

This is page 1 of the search results...

...and this is the second page, note the 'no results' error message at the top of the page.

This appears to be yet another way to censor things without them appearing to be censored at first glance. A user who searches for Hong Kong just to see if it’s blocked will find that it isn’t. But anyone who wants to read beyond the first page is going to quickly discover they can’t actually see anything that’s being said about Hong Kong. Similarly, if it is true that Hong Kong-based users can’t currently share pictures with anyone other than themselves, this allows those users to feel like they’re sharing (they can still upload the pictures, and see them in their feed) without actually letting them share.

Why Sina is doing this is a mystery, as like I said, surely it has absolutely nothing to do with the mass protests yesterday or the general anger surrounding Hu Jintao’s visit and the subsequent leadership handover ceremony conducted in a language many Hong Kongers don’t speak. The timing, I’m sure, is just a coincidence!

(For those of you immune to internet sarcasm: I’m joking. This episode of weibo censorship is quite obviously directly related to yesterday’s protests in Hong Kong).

(And yes, we're serious about ethics and transparency. More information here.)

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