Monday, December 24, 2012

"Santa Claus" Not a Sensitive Term, But What About "Snuffleupagus"?

Aloysius Snuffleupagus, also known as "Mr. Snuffleupagus" or "Snuffy," is a recurring character on the American television program Sesame Street. He resembles a woolly mammoth with a long thick pointed tail, brown hair, and a trunk, or "snuffle," that drags along the ground.

Snuffy is, by Muppet standards at least, a controversial and divisive figure. For many years he was a source of tension on Sesame Street, as Big Bird was the only character who could see him. Then in 1992 it was revealed that his parents had divorced. Sesame Street originally planned to address the affair, going so far as to film an episode on the subject. That episode proved so controversial that it has been extensively censored in the United States and Canada.

This screenshot, taken on December 16, 2012, show that a search on Baidu for "Snuffleupagus" returns apparently uncensored results.

However, these screenshots show that when a user tries to search for Snuffleupagus and the names of members of the Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee, Baidu returns no results, only a notice saying "Search results may not comply with relevant laws, regulations, and policies, and have not been displayed. We suggest trying other related words." (搜索结果可能不符合相关法律法规和政策,未予显示。建议尝试其他相关词。)
Searches for "Snuffleupagus" and "Xi Jinping," "Li Keqiang," and "Zhang Dejiang"
return no results, just a censorship notice.
This screenshot shows Baidu is also completely censoring searches for "Xi Jinping Snuffy" and "Xi Jinping 史纳菲" (Snuffy's name in Chinese).

These screenshots show that similar searches on Baidu for other (arguably) fictional characters are not similarly censored.
Searches for "Xi Jinping Mickey Mouse" and "Xi Jinping Santa Claus"
return dozens of results.
Baidu's censorship extends to the names of some, but not all, controversial political figures. For example, these screenshots show that, when a user searches for "Bo Xilai Snuffleupagus" (薄熙来) Baidu returns a censorship notice. But when a user searches for "Wang Lijun Snuffleupagus" (王立军) Baidu simply says it is unable to find any results.

Baidu also seems to be censoring results that connect Snuffy to certain controversial events.  These screenshots show that when a user searches for Snuffleupagus and "Jasmine Revolution" (茉莉花革命) and "Six Four" (六四) Baidu returns only a censorship notice. But a search for "18th Party Congress Snuffleupagus" (十八大) returns almost 100 results, and a search for "Mid-Autumn Moon Festival Snuffleupagus" (中秋节) returns a notice saying no search results can be found (but there is no censorship notice).

It is difficult to say whether there is any connection between these incidents and Baidu's censorship. It is also unclear why Baidu is singling out the relatively obscure Mr. Snuffleupagus for complete censorship, while still returning censored results for queries containing the names of far more infamous figures, such as the sadistic Wile E. Coyote (Super Genius) and Legion of Doom member Gorilla Grodd.
Baidu restricts search results for "Xi Jinping Wile E. Coyote" and
"Xi Jinping Gorilla Grodd" to is broad white list.
This is all the more puzzling because Snuffy features prominently on the China-based, appearing on the home page and having his own profile. But it might be possible to read something into the fact that Snuffy's profile is listed last, even coming after Zoe, who is well-known for her bourgeoisie obsession with ballet.
If you're still reading - yes, this post is intended to be tongue-in-cheek. The screenshots are all real (no photoshopping), but the most likely explanation is that Snuffy is a victim of collateral censorship, not the target of actual censorship. 

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