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Keeping a website alive behind the Great Firewall

Wednesday's post, "Advice for colleagues on the digital front lines," offered practical advice for keeping a website up and running in a hostile political environment. But such measures are not universally applicable. Sky Canaves, CPJ's new East Asia and Internet consultant in Hong Kong, sent this reality check for Internet writers in China, where tighter government scrutiny has driven online users to turn to other tactics.

Canaves says:

In China, many popular overseas blogging platforms, including Blogspot, Blogger, and Wordpress.com, have been blocked by the Great Firewall. Chinese companies that host blog sites are held liable for the content published on their platforms, so they employ monitors to supervise user activity and delete posts or take down sites that may violate the country's broad online content restrictions.

The restrictions prohibit publication of material that "injures the reputation of state organs," "destroys social order," and distorts the truth or spreads rumors, and includes other types of content the government deems politically subversive or criminal.

To keep their online presence alive, some Chinese bloggers maintain multiple blogs across different domestic blogging platforms, such as those offered by Sina and Sohu, in the hopes that sensitive posts removed from one site may survive on another. Social media such as China's Twitter-like microblog service also provides a backup outlet for writers, as users can post text as an image file, which is more difficult to monitor and censor since the content cannot be automatically flagged using traditional methods of keyword filtering.

It's worth noting that even though China maintains a rigorous Web-monitoring regime, and that the majority of the 34 journalists imprisoned in Chinese jails are there because of their Internet-based writing, there are more than 485 million users online in the country, and 390 million of them have broadband access at home, according to the China Internet Information Center. Over the years, the government has steadily developed tactics to control all the activity, but despite all their efforts the country has a vibrant online atmosphere.

The downside is that China's tactics--both the technical capacity to monitor activity and the social/economic approach of holding the companies whose servers host the sites responsible for the content--are being imitated by governments around the world.

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