Chinese Law Prof Blog

Editor: Donald C. Clarke
George Washington University Law School

Sunday, May 13, 2012

News from the Chronicle of Higher Misinformation

A colleague recently brought to my attention this short piece in the web version of the Chronicle of Higher Education:

‘New York University’ Is Added to China’s List of Banned Internet Search Terms

May 11, 2012

China’s Internet censors have added “New York University” to their list of blocked search terms, reports China Digital Times. Last week, NYU’s law school offered the blind civil-rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng a visiting-scholar position. Previously, Mr. Chen had taken refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing after escaping from house arrest. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused American officials of interfering in China’s domestic affairs. NYU’s offer helped solved the diplomatic impasse. On the popular Sina Weibo microblogging service, searches for “New York University” drew denial-of-service messages on May 10, reports China Digital Times. <remainder omitted>

This report makes outright misstatements of fact and is seriously misleading.

First, the source is a report from China Digital Times (a reliable source) about Sina Weibo. But the headline and the first sentence use that to support a claim about the Internet. Sina Weibo is not the Chinese Internet; it's just the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

Second, there has been no blocking of "New York University" or "NYU" on either Sina Weibo or the internet generall. What has been blocked is the Chinese term for "New York University" (纽约大学).

Bottom line: All that has been blocked in any way, on any platform or medium, are searches for the Chinese term for NYU. And such searches have been blocked only in the sense that if you search for tweets on Sina Weibo using that Chinese term, your results will be blocked. But if you are looking for information about NYU using any internet search engine, even a Chinese one based in China such as Baidu, you still get results as usual, and the NYU site itself is not blocked.

In short, this measure seems to be solely about suppressing discussion of Chen Guangcheng's visiting scholar offer from NYU on the Sina Weibo platform; it is not about punishing NYU for making the offer. Anyone in China who wants to search the web for information on NYU or visit its web site can do so just as before.

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Thank you for sharing this. Although the article you've analyzed is particularly egregious, I've noticed a lot of misinformation lately about censorship in China, particularly in headlines which may or may not reflect the underlying content of the article. Some times, a search will be described as "blocked" on Weibo, when in fact it is merely unsearchable. This of course is still an invasive move that is unacceptable by free speech censors, but to describe an unsearchable term as "blocked" misses the fact that many times the "banned" term can in fact be tweeted, and can be found in some content threads.

Posted by: David Wertime, Co-Editor, | May 13, 2012 11:05:03 AM

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