Run-up to 20th Anniversary of Tiananmen Square Blamed
Posted by Normandy Madden on 06.02.09 @ 02:55 PM, Advertising Age
HONG KONG (AdAge.com) -- China's government has pulled the plug on yet another Western website, making Twitter unavailable to most users in mainland China since about 5 p.m. local time (5 a.m. in New York.)
It is widely assumed the government wanted to limit Twitter use before an important and controversial event -- the 20th anniversary of the government crackdown on student protests in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.
The authorities are also nervous about the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China coming up on Oct. 1, 2009.
Tweets cannot exceed 140 characters, limiting messages in most Western languages to just a few words, but 140 Chinese characters gives Twitter users the ability to post a full-blown news article.
Also, Twitter's format makes it easy to spread messages quickly and easily and potentially mobilize people in public areas within minutes, a scenario that terrifies China's Communist Party.
The government blocked other sites this week, such as Flickr, a photo sharing service owned by Yahoo, and two Microsoft Corp. applications, the e-mail service Hotmail and Bing, a flagship search engine that launched globally only this week. It has also started a four-month crackdown on unapproved internet cafes.
"It's experiencing a boom in popularity," said Oli D. (@djodcouk), a Shanghai-based blogger with one of the largest Twitter followings in China who declined to give his full name for this story.
Minutes after the site was blocked in China, indignant and often angry users tweeted posts with trend topics such as #gfw (which stands for "great firewall of China") and even #fuckgfw.
Censors have blocked other Western sites in China, including YouTube in early March, presumably for videos on the site related to Tibet, another sensitive topic in China. Blogspot, Tumblr, Livejournal, Xanga, Wordpress, Friendfeed and Microsoft's Live.com are also blocked.
Ironically, many posts are still coming from users based in the mainland who are skirting the blocked site today with Twitter applications like Tweetdeck.