China Blocking Search Terms in Hopes of Blocking Protests

Egypt’s stunning revolution spurred protests in Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain. The unrest has led to soaring oil prices and an increasingly turbulent atmosphere in the Middle East and Africa. Chinese authorities are hoping to nip any thought of protests there in the bud, and they’re targeting a tool that proved itself invaluable in Egypt: the Internet. Mind that China’s recently launched search engine, Panguso, is 100% government-censored. By blocking certain search terms, the government is trying to keep protestors from gaining a foothold in the country.

According to Rob Schmitz, China bureau chief for America’s National Public Radio, “The government is doing what it usually does when it feels threatened like this, and that’s blocking certain search terms related to the unrest in the Middle East.” The government has the power to shut down server connections if “sensitive” search terms are entered.

One example is queries for the “Jasmine Revolution.” This refers to the unrest in Tunisia that is ongoing. The 2010-2011 Tunisia revolution led to the ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali; China wants to clamp down on Internet urgings that suggest China ought to have its own Jasmine Revolution. In China, if one enters that particular search phrase, an error message pops up, reading, “The connection is reset – the site is temporarily unavailable.” Searches with the word “jasmine” yield similar results.

The government has also blocked people from sending text messages to multiple recipients and has cracked down on microblogging sites like Twitter and Facebook. Recently, protestors did meet in Beijing, and hundreds of police officers responded. As of now, 15 lawyers and human rights activists have been detained and more than 80 dissidents are under house arrest. President Hu Jintao says, “The overall requirements for enhancing and innovating social management are to stimulate vitality in the society and increase harmonious elements to the greatest extent, while reducing inharmonious factors to the minimum.” He also said that Chinese leaders must “guide public opinion.” They certainly are trying, but will technology savvy protestors gain the upper hand as they did in Egypt?

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