Chinese New Year is usually a pretty quiet time for China’s social media censors. People are typically at home with family rather than out on the streets protesting. But this year, Hong Kongers took to the streets over a police crackdown on local fishball vendors and other street peddlers, and things got pretty extreme. Eventually it became a riot, with people throwing bricks and other projectiles, and police resorting to tear gas and even reportedly firing warning shots.
News of the conflict is not being censored in mainland China. In fact, quite the contrary: the riots have been prominently covered by most of China’s state-owned media outlets. But discussion of the riots hasn’t been totally free on Sina Weibo; Hong Kong University’s Weiboscope tool reveals that a small number of posts related to the riots have been censored.
A lot of what’s getting deleted by censors is related to the gunshots that Hong Kong police reportedly fired. Weibo posts suggesting those shots were fired at protesters are being deleted, which is understandable given that there’s no evidence that happened. But retweets correcting those posts and clarifying that the shots fired were warning shots have also been censored, as have posts that say the police aimed guns at rioters, but did not fire. Additionally, comments that are overly critical of mainland Chinese policies seem to be getting censored. This one, for example, saying China’s one country, two systems policy has failed got hit with the ban hammer.
Overall, though, it must be said that Sina’s censors appear to be using a light touch. As of this writing, most of the recent censored posts on Weiboscope are related to Hong Kong, but the actual rate of censorship is pretty low, with just a handful of tweets being deleted each hour. For now, it seems China’s censors are willing to let the story run its course.
This post was originally published on Tech in Asia.
Featured image credit: fuzheado / Creative Commons