Jike, the ultra-censored search engine operated by the People’s Daily, is having a bad week. The company is fighting off rumours that it is planning to lay off 100 workers, after it was revealed that in 20 months of operation the People’s Search Engine has only captured 0.0001 percent of the search market.
An anonymous whistleblower said Jike’s chairman, former Olympic table tennis champion Deng Yaping, was planning to sack 20 percent of the company’s workforce after it had generated little return on 2 billion yuan worth of investment. The whistleblower, and other tech figures such as former Google China head Kaifu Lee, laid the blame for Jike’s failure at the feet of Deng, who had little to no experience when she took up the top job.
Lest you forget for a second that Jike is an entity of the CPC, the search company now seems to be attempting to scrub the bad news off the internet, with the assistance of the propaganda department. Lee was suspended from both Sina and Tencent Weibo (though this may have backfired as he publicly called for his 30 million fans to follow him to Twitter, see below), and Chinese tech blog Huxiu, which had originally published the whistleblower’s claims, was censored.
Lee has picked up thousands of new followers on Twitter since his suspension from Weibo. Source: Wildfire.
Like Lee, Huxiu leaped over the great firewall to defend itself, posting on its Tumblr:
In the noon of February 17, 2013, Huxiu.com received mail from the relevant departments that request us to delete the Jike Search article reports. Soon after, we found all the reprinted articles that on the Chinese Internet community within the scope were disappeared, at the same time, related information on weibo was also lost. That afternoon, Huxiu.com published another article try to analysis the gain and loss for Jike Search under Deng’s management. Again, Huxiu received another mail from the relevant departments that request to delete the article. Without any effect negotiations with the relevant departments after inconclusive, Huxiu is forced to remove this article.
Lee himself posted on LinkedIn that he still believes in social media in China despite his “current predicament”. I agree. While the Chinese system of censorship is undoubtedly one of the best in the world, this story, like the Southern Weekly incident, shows it has major gaps in its armour. Post facto censorship simply will not work in the era of Weibo and Twitter, especially not against journalists or tech companies, who are more used to than most at jumping the great firewall. The attempted muzzling of Huxiu and Lee, whether it was at Jike’s request or the propaganda department trying to protect its own, has backfired massively. A quick Google or Baidu search for Lee’s name throws up dozens of stories about his suspension from Weibo. At the time of writing Lee’s Chinese name is trending on Weibo, where users are decrying the clumsy attempt at censorship.
The Chinese web is developing its own form of the Streisand Effect, and it’s hitting the censors where it hurts.