When Chinese journalists complained on one of the country’s largest social networks that the government had changed their editorial, they found themselves censored a second time. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that a former employee in Weibo’s censorship department collected documents that demonstrate how the company bends to governmental pressure.
The evidence focuses on a specific 2013 incident where the staff of the Guangdong-based newspaper Southern Weekly used Weibo to call for the resignation of the head of their province’s propaganda department after one of their paper’s editorials was changed without their knowledge. Although Weibo did not verify the documents, CPJ says they show that between April 2011 and late 2014, the company maintained a list of censorship orders and went into hyper-mode after the Southern Weekly editorial was published. The social media website's censorship team was told to focus on "checking and clearing" posts attacking the department head. "Posts instigating his resignation should also be censored," the documents reportedly state. "Ordinary mentions and ordinary negative posts do not need to be censored."
the censorship department went into hyper-mode
On a different day, but still in relation to the controversial editorial, the censorship department was told to "maintain the same level of censorship [as in previous days]" and to "mainly make posts unable to be shared," CPJ reports. "For those extreme posts that attack the party, leaders, and call for protests, make them invisible. Do not overkill."
Invisible posts are a trickier form of censorship in that the author of the post can still see it, so it’s difficult to tell that it’s been hidden on the site. To find offending posts, the social media site uses an algorithm that flags content, which is then forwarded to the censorship department’s 150 employees. So during the Southern Weekly incident, employees took those flagged posts and categorized them to help in future censorship endeavors. Reuters reported in 2013 that around 3 million posts were processed in one day following the publishing of the newspaper's editorial.