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China's robot censors crank up as Tiananmen anniversary nears

China's robot censors crank up as Tiananmen anniversary nears

Postby smix » Tue May 28, 2019 6:00 am

China's robot censors crank up as Tiananmen anniversary nears
Reuters

URL: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-chin ... SKCN1SW03Y
Category: Politics
Published: May 27, 2019

Description: BEIJING (Reuters) - It’s the most sensitive day of the year for China’s internet, the anniversary of the bloody June 4 crackdown on pro-democracy protests at Tiananmen Square, and with under two weeks to go, China’s robot censors are working overtime.

tiananmen-square.jpg

Censors at Chinese internet companies say tools to detect and block content related to the 1989 crackdown have reached unprecedented levels of accuracy, aided by machine learning and voice and image recognition. “We sometimes say that the artificial intelligence is a scalpel, and a human is a machete,” said one content screening employee at Beijing Bytedance Co Ltd, who asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to speak to media. Two employees at the firm said censorship of the Tiananmen crackdown, along with other highly sensitive issues including Taiwan and Tibet, is now largely automated. Posts that allude to dates, images and names associated with the protests are automatically rejected. “When I first began this kind of work four years ago there was opportunity to remove the images of Tiananmen, but now the artificial intelligence is very accurate,” one of the people said. Four censors, working across Bytedance, Weibo Corp and Baidu Inc apps said they censor between 5,000-10,000 pieces of information a day, or five to seven pieces a minute, most of which they said were pornographic or violent content. Despite advances in AI censorship, current-day tourist snaps in the square are sometimes unintentionally blocked, one of the censors said. Bytedance and Baidu declined to comment, while Weibo did not respond to request for comment.
SENSITIVE PERIOD
The Tiananmen crackdown is a taboo subject in China 30 years after the government sent tanks to quell student-led protests calling for democratic reforms. Beijing has never released a death toll but estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to several thousand. June 4th itself is marked by a cat-and-mouse game as people use more and more obscure references on social media sites, with obvious allusions blocked immediately. In some years, even the word “today” has been scrubbed. In 2012, China's most-watched stock index fell 64.89 points on the anniversary day here, echoing the date of the original event in what analysts said was likely a strange coincidence rather than a deliberate reference. Still, censors blocked access to the term “Shanghai stock market” and to the index numbers themselves on microblogs, along with other obscure references to sensitive issues. While companies censorship tools are becoming more refined, analysts, academics and users say heavy-handed policies mean sensitive periods before anniversaries and political events have become catch-alls for a wide range of sensitive content. In the lead-up to this year’s Tiananmen Square anniversary, censorship on social media has targeted LGBT groups, labor and environment activists and NGOs, they say. Upgrades to censorship tech have been urged on by new policies introduced by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC). The group was set up - and officially led - by President Xi Jinping, whose tenure has been defined by increasingly strict ideological control of the internet. The CAC did not respond to a request for comment. Last November, the CAC introduced new rules aimed at quashing dissent online in China, where “falsifying the history of the Communist Party” on the internet is a punishable offence for both platforms and individuals. The new rules require assessment reports and site visits for any internet platform that could be used to “socially mobilize” or lead to “major changes in public opinion”, including access to real names, network addresses, times of use, chat logs and call logs. One official who works for CAC told Reuters the recent boost in online censorship is “very likely” linked to the upcoming anniversary. “There is constant communication with the companies during this time,” said the official, who declined to directly talk about the Tiananmen, instead referring to the “the sensitive period in June”. Companies, which are largely responsible for their own censorship, receive little in the way of directives from the CAC, but are responsible for creating guidelines in their own “internal ethical and party units”, the official said.
SECRET FACTS
With Xi’s tightening grip on the internet, the flow of information has been centralized under the Communist Party’s Propaganda Department and state media network. Censors and company staff say this reduces the pressure of censoring some events, including major political news, natural disasters and diplomatic visits. “When it comes to news, the rule is simple... If it is not from state media first, it is not authorized, especially regarding the leaders and political items,” said one Baidu staffer. “We have a basic list of keywords which include the 1989 details, but (AI) can more easily select those. Punishment for failing to properly censor content can be severe. In the past six weeks, popular services including a Netease Inc news app, Tencent Holdings Ltd’s news app TianTian, and Sina Corp have all been hit with suspensions ranging from days to weeks, according to the CAC, meaning services are made temporarily unavailable on apps stores and online. For internet users and activists, penalties can range from fines to jail time for spreading information about sensitive events online. In China, social media accounts are linked to real names and national ID numbers by law, and companies are legally compelled to offer user information to authorities when requested. “It has become normal to know things and also understand that they can’t be shared,” said one user, Andrew Hu. “They’re secret facts.” In 2015, Hu spent three days in detention in his home region of Inner Mongolia after posting a comment about air pollution onto an unrelated image that alluded to the Tiananmen crackdown on Twitter-like social media site Weibo. Hu, who declined to use his full Chinese name to avoid further run-ins with the law, said when police officers came to his parents house while he was on leave from his job in Beijing he was surprised, but not frightened. “The responsible authorities and the internet users are equally confused,” said Hu. “Even if the enforcement is irregular, they know the simple option is to increase pressure.”
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Twitter Takes Down Accounts of China Dissidents Ahead of Tiananmen Anniversary

Postby smix » Sun Jun 02, 2019 3:10 am

Twitter Takes Down Accounts of China Dissidents Ahead of Tiananmen Anniversary
New York Times

URL: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/01/busi ... anmen.html
Category: Politics
Published: June 1, 2019

Description: SHANGHAI — Three days before the most sensitive political anniversary on the Chinese calendar, Twitter suspended the accounts of Chinese political commentators in what it said was an accident. The move showed starkly the global political ramifications of Silicon Valley slip-ups.

tiananmen-square-tanks.jpg

Twitter’s action, which one human rights worker said affected more than 100 users, came over several hours late Friday and early Saturday. It hit human rights lawyers, activists, college students and nationalists, who use workarounds to get access to Twitter, which is banned in China. Just about every part of the raucous, if small, Chinese language Twitter world was affected. The accounts began rapidly disappearing just days before the 30th anniversary of the crackdown on a student-led pro-democracy demonstration in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Many online assumed the worst: a coordinated attack by Beijing to project its suffocating internet censorship outside its own digital borders. Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, tweeted about his concern. Yet the culprit was not Chinese censors but Twitter’s own overactive filters. In a statement, Twitter said that as a part of its routine efforts to stop spam and inauthentic behavior, it had inadvertently gone after a number of legitimate Chinese-language accounts. “These accounts were not mass reported by the Chinese authorities — this was routine action on our part,” the company said in a statement on Twitter. “Sometimes our routine actions catch false positives or we make errors. We apologize.” Online, many users said they did not believe Twitter’s statement told the whole story. One human rights lawyer, whose account had been taken down, said that in protest he tweeted an image of Twitter’s bird mascot colored red with five yellow stars to evoke the Chinese flag. The routine action set off real fears. In China, the June 4 anniversary of Tiananmen brings an extra dose of censorship to one of the world’s most controlled corners of the internet. Tools that help users jump the Great Firewall to get access to the broader online world often sputter inexplicably. Within China, Twitter users have faced escalating pressures. At the end of 2018, China’s Ministry of Public Security began to target Chinese Twitter users. Although Twitter is blocked, many use virtual-private network software that enables access. In a campaign carried out across the country and coordinated by a division known as the internet police, local officers detained Twitter users and forced them to delete their tweets, which often included years of online discussion, and then the accounts themselves. The campaign is continuing, according to human rights groups. In the past, Twitter has come under fire for its political tone deafness, especially overseas. After the United Nations found that deliberate social media manipulation helped encourage a genocide in Myanmar, Twitter’s founder, Jack Dorsey, chose the country as the destination for a meditation retreat. While there, he declined to meet with organizers who were fighting violent propaganda and dangerous rumors spread on the platform.

Image

Twitter said that all users in China who had their accounts recently suspended should be able to recover them, though a day later, some accounts remained locked, according to Yaxue Cao, editor of ChinaChange.org, a website dedicated to writings on civil society and human rights. “I do believe Twitter is trying to do good,” Ms. Cao said. “No questions about that. But the results are mixed.”
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