Aside from some wind-related misinformation leaking through, China’s censors have managed to maintain that tight control of the Chinese internet we have come to expect following disasters like the Tianjin explosions, liberally expunging thousands upon thousands of “dangerous” tweets.
Many Weibo posters have claimed that their posts on the disaster have “disappeared”. With just two days gone by since the blast and so little reliable information available, it is hard to discern if China’s PR team are simply deleting inaccurate and potentially harmful rumors—like that pollutants from the explosions will be blown to Beijing—or are harmonizing potentially inconvenient truths.
The top 10 most censored terms on Free Weibo, which captures all messages censored or deleted on the social media platform, are almost entirely made up of some combination of “Tianjin” and “explosion.”
— Leta Hong Fincher洪理达 (@LetaHong) August 13, 2015
One of the most deleted posts came from esteemed Caijing magazine, which cited an interview with a firefighter who said that they were not told that there were toxic chemicals on scene that would react dangerously with water. The post was retweeted almost 10,000 times before being harmonized. Other posts speculating about the contents of the pollutants and what that means for the city’s air have also been among the top expunged.
Of course, actual reporting at the scene of the disaster has been heavily restricted as well. While a CNN reporter being confronted by an angry and grieving mob might not serve as the best example, the fact that Tianjin Television was airing Korean soap operas the morning after the explosions as they waited for permission to begin covering the story is telling.
Coincidentally, also among the most deleted posts are those complaining about local media coverage of the disaster. Take this post for example, via BBC:
“I was watching Tianjin TV at 8am and they were still showing ‘First Wives’ Club’ – I could barely breathe! I feel as though this country’s media… shows an inhumane response to emergencies.”
China Digital Times has published Chinese media directives about how best to report/bury the disaster: “Remove news and images from the explosions from headlines.” Reporters are also forbidden to write posts about the explosions on their personal Weibo and WeChat accounts.
However, some conversations are still allowed to go on.
— David Wertime (@dwertime) August 13, 2015