Page last updated at 14:54 GMT, Tuesday, 30 June 2009 15:54 UK

Anger in China over web censorship

China has delayed a plan requiring all new computers sold in the country to be equipped with internet filtering software. The Green Dam software has become a major topic of discussion in the blogosphere. The BBC's Krassimira Twigg looks at what bloggers and netizens have had to say about it.

Chinese net user, AFP
China has set up comprehensive net surveillance

Internet censorship has been one of the most widely discussed subjects in blogs, message forums and social media networks in China over the past month.

Web policing was tightened up around the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown on 4 June, resulting in the temporary blocking of Twitter and other websites.

Before things could settle down, China announced plans for a new filtering software to be introduced on new PCs from 1 July. The Green Dam Youth Escort software was created to stop people viewing "offensive" content such as pornographic or violent websites.

While the blocking of websites around the 4 June was not unexpected, or unprecedented, the new software has created quite a stir in the blogosphere.

The Green Dam fast became one of the top topics on Twitter. One Twitterer observed: "Chinese netizens are tolerant of censorship in the clouds, but Green Dam crosses the line and becomes surveillance of personal space. The government has miscalculated."

Blacklisted words

Chinese internet users have started to collect and analyse information about Green Dam.

Articles about the "leaking dam" appeared in a number of blogs. The paradox is, bloggers observed, that the software, which analyzes skin tones, will block Garfield kittens, as they are yellow, but it won't be able to recognise pornographic images of dark-skinned people.

A list of the software's filtered words was unlocked by computer security experts at the University of Michigan. Blogger Fang Zhouzi, writing for Danwei , is baffled by some of the choices.

"The list includes common terms like "essence". I can't even imagine what "essence" counts as. Green Dam monitors word processing in addition to internet. So does this mean that from now on the word "essence" can no longer appear in school essays, textbooks and dictionaries?" he says.

PR executive Steven Lin shares the general conviction that the purpose of the software is rather more sinister than it claims to be and that it will block legitimate websites.

"There are interesting words in Green Dam's blacklist. The word "gay" for example. Every time you open a web page including this word, the browser will immediately shut down. I think this is just too aggressive," he says.

Install crapware on their computers, deny them web services like Hotmail and Gmail and they become vocal and angry to a degree I haven't seen before
Frank Yu

With discussion on censorship increasing, blogs, Twitter and message boards have become a platform for exchanging tips on how to outsmart the censors.

Frank Yu, executive of a mobile game development company, thinks the Chinese netizens of today are much more savvy than they used to be.

"They are more sophisticated and have tools of their own like Human Flesh searches and an intricate vocabulary of code words and slang to fool the censors. The latest attempts to control the net are a desperate last gasp by the censors using yesterday's techniques."

Most Chinese internet users are educated and apolitical, willing to tolerate a limited amount of censorship.

Frank Yu thinks that the government's latest, more vigorous, attempts to censor the web are starting to create a backlash.

"Netizens don't care if you block the BBC or New York Times - this doesn't affect them. But install crapware on their computers, deny them web services like Hotmail and Gmail and they become vocal and angry to a degree I haven't seen before."

'Laughing stock'

Radio talk show host David Feng thinks that Green Dam is part of a wider clean-up campaign ahead of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic in October.

Cartoon of Green Dam Girl
The Green Dam Girl has been created to mock the filtering plan

"Green Dam is part of the huge clean-up before the boss comes to inspect. It's a case of a bad PR for the folks in charge," he says.

"They are doing this just for the big 60. Cleaning up of the trash in the real world might work, but the moment you hit the wires - that's a different story."

Other critics have used humour and art to mock the software, creating cartoon images of the "Green Dam Girl".

In2marcom has put together a gallery of the manga-style cartoon and the Green Dam Girl has a fan site in Facebook.

For Steven Lin, Green Dam is more of a nuisance than a formidable challenge.

"I don't really view it as a Big Brother who's watching everyone. It's a stupid software which doesn't work the right way. What annoys me it that it costs 40 million yuan (US $5.85 million) of Chinese taxpayers' money. Nobody asked us if we want it. It's insane."

David Feng thinks it's another hassle savvy young people can easily work their way around.

"Green Dam is not being taken seriously at all. The Twitter stream is full of parodies and jokes. What do we have here - something that won't succeed in stomping out porn, that was designed to scare us but has instead become a laughing stock."



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