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China and Vietnam boost online control

HONG KONG (SE): Governments in both China and Vietnam are moving to place tighter control over the content of postings on the Internet.

China is doing it through technological monitoring and Vietnam by law, banning bloggers and people using social media from sharing news stories online.

The ruling Communist Party in China has tightened its grip on what can be seen online by upgrading the country’s already powerful network of blocks, filters and censorship—known as the Great Firewall, a report from Radio Free Asia published on July 26 says.

“China’s Internet controls, which were already among the most extensive in the world, have grown even more sophisticated and pervasive under the new Communist Party leadership,” Freedom House was reported as saying in a study in New York in late July.

Freedom House maintains that China’s Internet service providers have boosted their capacity to delete content deemed sensitive by the Party propaganda department, and has shown that it has the capacity to react within minutes of something being posted.

The report says that new regulations requiring real-name registration for web-based services and cell phones mean that anonymity is much harder to come by than before.

It adds that circumvention tools like Tor, which allowed people to view blocked sites, will not work so well in the future.

“As more Chinese people get online and encounter constraints, more adopt tools and workarounds to avoid them, a sign of tremendous public demand for Internet freedom,” Freedom House research analyst, Madeline Earp, published in a statement on the group’s website.

“But instead of relaxing control, (Party) leaders under President Xi Jinping are refining China’s technical and regulatory apparatus to stop citizens from evading censorship and surveillance,” she said.

Mobile Internet users in China in particular, who outnumbered broadband netizens for the first time in 2012, are easily traced.

The Freedom House report points out that a number of rights advocates, including in Tibet and the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang, have been jailed for using social media and other digital tools, while searches of mobile handsets are becoming more and more common.

It also adds that private Internet companies like Sina, Tencent, and Baidu have stepped up their ability to filter unwanted content.

“Domestic companies must censor to succeed,” the report notes. 

It adds that companies have produced sophisticated and nuanced control systems in order to stay ahead of the evolving official directives designed to restrict creative online activism.

“Instant messages containing sensitive keywords disappeared, connections using (circumvention) tools were severed and public microblog posts have quietly been made private, visible only to the author,” the report continues.

China is rated Not Free in three separate Freedom House reports encompassing general freedoms, press freedom and Internet freedom.

A retired Shandong University professor, Sun Wenguang, said his experience of using the Internet for advocacy resonates with the report.

“The government is controlling the Internet more strictly than before,” Sun said.

“When I go online, I often run into difficulties. For example, when I want to view some articles on Dongtaiwang, they have either been deleted, or you can only view the headline, but can’t open the page,” Radio Free Asia reported him as saying.

But he said censorship was often inconsistent, which Freedom House concluded could be linked to political use of online content by factions within the Party.

“During the anniversary of the 4 June 1989, I couldn’t get online at all and when the computer company came to check out why, they couldn’t find any problems,” Sun pointed out.

In Vietnam, Agence France Presse reports that new laws mean that Facebook and Twitter should only be used to provide and exchange personal information, not general information, stories from newspapers or state-owned websites.


It is not clear how it will be implemented, but it could become illegal to even share a link for a story or discuss anything published by the government press.

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