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Facebook Inaccessible in China After Violent Clashes in Urumqi

July 9, 2009, Bloomberg

Facebook Inc.’s social-networking Web site was inaccessible in China as the government blocks information after violent clashes in one of its regions.

As of 1:36 p.m. Beijing time, there were at least 36 reports of Facebook.com being unavailable from China, according to Herdict.org, a project at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, which tracks Web outages. Local access to the YouTube.com video site of Google Inc. was also broken, and connections to Amazon.com Inc.’s online store were irregular.

China’s government, which maintains tight control over the Internet, media and information flow, severed access to e-mails and the Web this week in the western city of Urumqi in Xinjiang province amid ethnic clashes that left more than 150 people dead and 1,000 injured. Authorities blocked Google’s search engine last month amid criticism it spread pornography.

“The government wants to show it’s doing as much as it can to prevent links to information from overseas as well as from inside China,” Duncan Clark, chairman of BDA China, a Beijing- based technology consultancy, said by phone. “It won’t work.”

Facebook.com couldn’t be accessed from Beijing or Shanghai as of 11 a.m. local time, while connections were possible from Seattle and Brisbane, Australia, according to WebSitePulse.com. Yahoo! Inc.’s Yahoo.com Internet portal and Microsoft Corp.’s Hotmail.com e-mail service were reachable from all four locations, according to WebSitePulse.com.

“It does appear to be running slowly” in China, said Larry Yu, a spokesman for Palo Alto, California-based Facebook. “We’re looking into the matter, what the reason is for the service running slowly.”

‘Prisoner of State’

Amazon.com, the world’s largest online store, sells “Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang,” the banned memoirs of the former chief of the Chinese Communist Party, who was under 16 years of house arrest until his death in 2005. He secretly taped his account of the infighting among party officials before they ordered the military to crush pro-democracy demonstrations on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989. Clicking on the book’s Web page from China blocks the whole site for at least 15 minutes, and it can be re-accessed once the Internet browser’s history is cleared.

This may mark the first time the government has totally suppressed access to Amazon.com, broadening previous restrictions on Web pages for individual books, Clark said.

“The government has blocked some individual books, but has never blocked the whole site, to my knowledge,” Clark said.

Urumqi Violence

Patty Smith, a spokeswoman for Seattle-based Amazon, didn’t answer calls by Bloomberg News to her office and mobile phone. E-mails to Smith and Drew Herdener, a spokesman, were unanswered. Wang Lijian, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, said he couldn’t immediately comment.

China’s top police officer, Meng Jianzhu, “urged no leniency” today in punishing participants in the violence in Urumqi and said evidence showed the riots were masterminded and remotely controlled by overseas separatists, the official Xinhua news agency reported today.

Twitter Inc.’s social-networking Web site was among Web pages that became inaccessible in China in the week preceding June 4, the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. China ranks first worldwide in online censorship, according to the Berkman Center’s Herdict.org. Twitter and YouTube have been inaccessible since at least July 3, according to Herdict, and could not be accessed by WebSitePulse.

The Chinese edition of Google.com, the world’s most visited search engine, was blocked last month as state broadcaster China Central Television reported the site linked to vulgar and pornographic content, prompting the Mountain View, California- based company to amend its service to avoid disputed content.

China had ordered that all new personal computers in the country be shipped with Web-monitoring software called Green Dam-Youth Escort from July 1. On July 30, the directive was delayed after computer makers and industry groups protested.

Computers equipped with Green Dam block Web sites with pornographic images and text as well as references to the Falun Gong spiritual organization, according to researchers at the University of Michigan. The Chinese government has banned Falun Gong.