Media Censorship in Mainland China

by Garvenski on November 2, 2017 - 3:09pm

Recently, WhatsApp messaging app as been blocked by Beijing to tighten surveillance of a big Communist Party meeting. The censorship began in 2009. Now, all the Facebook-owned apps, including Facebook, have now been disabled despite Mark Zuckerberg’s efforts of learning mandarin to make his product accessible to the Chinese population. Other services like Microsoft’s Skype are still available to the population due to their weaker security. WhatsApp good reputation among cryptographers for security, that hides text messages content even from Facebook, is what may have attracted the censors’ attention.

 In July, some of WhatsApp services, like audio and video chats with the addition of photographs sending and file sharing, were occasionally disrupted. However, most text messages were getting through. Nadim Kobeissi, applied cryptographer at Symbolic Software, said that it seemed that the Chinese censors may have developed a software that obstruct even text messages, both for WhatsApp and other companies. He added that the employed method of obstruction was not the usual method. It suggests that they found a way to target the encrypted data transport protocol. Lokman Tsui, an internet communications specialist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong said that most of WhatsApp users are unable to use its service due to the restrictions in place.

Chinese authorities are known for the measures they take against internet services, blocking or slowing some down to the point they become unusable. The users then use other services, mostly provided by Chinese companies, enabling the authorities to monitor them. They also closed churches and imprisoned numerous human right activist, lawyers and advocates for ethnic minorities.  The disruption of WhatsApp coincided with the Communist Party’s meeting that decides the ruler of the country and the members of the Standing Committee of the party’s elite group.

 The brusque shutdown of the service caused concerns to many users. The WeChat messaging service, basically WhatsApp but with a broader range of feature, hosts more then 950 million active users. The service also as close ties to the government, thus, complying to the official request for information.

In 2001, China agreed, when joining the World Trade Organization, to open communication services to international competition but other W.T.O. members left the restriction on media that was in place. Some multinationals relying on their market have been reluctant to accuse them of not respecting their agreements. Across the sea, the Office of the United States Trade Representative is investigating whether China is violating the intellectual property of American companies. The Mainlanders can still use WhatsApp by connecting to private networks that communicate with servers outside Chinese Mainland, but those are progressively being rooted out.

I think that the censorship made by the government should cease because its main goal is to monitor the population. It would create, for me, a discomfort, “self-censorship” and a little bit of fear when I use those services. This made me think. Could we also be spied on? Just the thought of it makes me shiver. I think that it infringes on the freedom of speech of the Mainlanders and that is something that I definitely do not support. A question that needs to be answer comes into mind after reading this article: Should anybody else then the users have access to the private content of applications or social medias? If so, in what context? 

 Bradsher, Keith. “China Blocks WhatsApp, Broadening Online Censorship”. Zhang,Carolyn. New York Time, 25 sept 2017.