Since Friday morning, Weibo users have been able to search for sensitive terms such as ‘June 4 incident’ and ‘Tiananmen Square Incident’ without receiving a censorship notice. Instead, such searches show partial, unhelpful results, according to Greatfire.org.
Rather than returning an automated message informing users that their search result has been censored “according to relevant laws, regulations and policies”, searches for “June 4 incident” (“六四事件”) and “June 4” (“六四”) instead displayed results designed to give the impression that nothing interesting is being said on Weibo about those topics.
When I searched “6/4”, “June 4” and “June 4 incident”, I got a smattering of results that happened to include the characters for six and four.
As for the keywords “Tiananmen Square incident”, searches returned plenty of results, but all were about the Tiananmen Square incident of 1976.
Sina’s new approach to censorship of the June 4 incident is part of a trend of more subtle filtering of the Chinese internet, designed to decrease the awareness of censorship among internet users. For example, researchers have found that when Sina censors certain posts on Weibo, they remain visible to the user who posted them, leaving users unaware that they are being censored.
[Image credit: @yu_miles, CPC wins Jeopardy: US gameshow contestants unaware of 1989 ‘incident’]