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Great Firewall of China expands as Tibetan riots continue
March 17, 2008, Ars Technica
China has joined the ranks of countries that have instituted either temporary or permanent blocks on YouTube. The decision came as clips of the recent riots in Tibet -- a "sensitive" topic in China -- have made their way onto the popular video sharing site. As usual, the Chinese government has remained mum on the move to block content from the eyes of Internet users, so it's unclear whether this block will remain in effect for the long term or if it's merely a short-term solution.
YouTube isn't the only site that has reportedly been added to China's Great Firewall since the Tibetan riots started last week. Popular news sites reporting on the riots -- such as CNN, The Guardian, the BBC, Google News, and Yahoo! -- have allegedly had all or parts of their sites blocked. Some Chinese readers have reported that only specific articles have been blocked, including ones that contain keywords about Tibet, riots, or the Dalai Lama.
Our own tests this morning with WebSitePulse's China firewall tester have only yielded a block on youtube.com thus far -- the other sites' home pages (and some specific articles about Tibet) appear to be going through. As we know, though, China's firewall doesn't always filter everything all the time, and may be implemented differently in different areas of the country. Sites that appear accessible in Shanghai right now might not be accessible in Beijing, and something that's accessible in China's capital may mysteriously "disappear" later on. Researchers at UC Davis' Computer Science department found that the firewall would accidentally allow banned terms through about 28 percent of the time, particularly during high-traffic times.
The problem with these arbitrary blocks is that users are increasingly aware of them. Posts made to Danwei.org, a site about Chinese media, show that Chinese Internet users not only know which sites are being blocked at which times, but why. "Youtube is blocked in China as of 22:45, Beijing time. See no evil, hear no evil..." wrote one poster, with others confirming the disconnect and pointing out that it "has a lot to do with Tibet." Another poster noted in a thread about YouTube and other news sources being blocked, "This govt officials should get a life and deal with reality!"
Given the Chinese government's fickle attitude towards the filtering the websites of international media, we'll venture a guess that the block on YouTube will eventually be lifted once the Tibetan dust begins to clear online. But each bit of additional filtering only raises the profile of China's filtering activities in the eyes of its Internet users. Maintaining the Great Firewall of China will become increasingly challenging as more of China's massive population gets online.