China’s July 23rd high speed rail crash has become known across the world, despite the Chinese government’s best attempts to censor the facts. This is due in large part because a young girl, using the online handle Smm Miao posted a message on the Chinese microblog Sina Weibo last Saturday evening. Her post read: “After all the wind and storm, what’s going on with the high-speed train?” “It’s crawling slower than a snail. I hope nothing happens to it.”
Moments later, the train in question was slammed into by another train traveling on the same track. The first train had been struck by lightening, and was unable to accelerate. The crash killed 40 people and injured 191, as four of the cars went plunging off a bridge, sending passengers to their deaths. Since then, China’s two major Twitter-like microblogs — called weibos — have logged about 26 million messages on the tragedy, including some that have forced embarrassed officials to reverse themselves.
The micro-blog posts are more valuable as the government exerts strict control over the media. Bloggers have revealed government cover ups of the crash, including officials attempting to bury evidence of the destroyed train cars. The Chinese Rail Ministry is responsible for passenger services, regulation of the rail industry, development of the rail network and rail infrastructure in mainland China, and has been fraught with allegations of corruption.
Despite the Chinese governments ban on Facebook and Twitter (since 2009, because they were feared to cause ethnic unrest), social media platforms have proliferated. The presence of micro blogs, such as Sina Weibo with over 140 million registered users, has literally given voice to those that censorship efforts from the government have saught to silence. The other most widely used social media sites are: Kaixin, Renren, QQ Zone, Sina Weibo,Tencent Weibo and Douban.
Internet Censorship in China is conducted under a wide variety of laws and administrative regulations. The escalation of the government’s effort to neutralize critical online opinion comes after a series of large anti-Japanese, anti-pollution, anti-corruption protests, and ethnic riots, many of which were organized or publicized using instant messaging services, chat rooms, and text messages. The size of the Internet Police is rumored at more than 30,000.Critical comments appearing on internet forums blogs, and major portals such as Sohu and Sina usually are erased within minutes.
The apparatus of the China’s Internet repression is considered more extensive and more advanced than in any other country in the world. The governmental authorities not only block website content but also monitor the Internet access of individuals. Amnesty International notes that China “has the largest recorded number of imprisoned journalists and cyber-dissidents in the world.”
In the immediate, Micro-bloggers such as the observant Smm Miao, are coercing the truth from a government accustomed to defining their own version of it, and thus breaking free of censorship.