Sunday, September 9, 2012

The March 2012 Ferrari Crash: Chronicling the Censorship

March 2012

This screenshot shows a Google cache of a Beijing Evening News report that the state-sponsored Global Times republished on its web site at around 8 pm on March 18, 2012 entitled "Three Pulled From Ferrari That Crashed Into a Bridge In the Middle of the Night, One Died at the Scene" (法拉利深夜撞桥车内3人被甩出 1人当场死亡). That report said that at around 4 am that morning, a Ferrari crashed on Beijing's fourth ring road, killing one and injuring two. The Global Times deleted the article on March 20, and the URL ( now points to an error page.

This screenshot shows that, by noon on March 19, Sina Weibo was already censoring searches for "Ferrari."

These screenshots were taken at around 3 pm on March 19. The left-hand image shows that a search for "Ferrari Crashes" (法拉利 车祸) on Baidu returns thousands of results, but only from a white list of about a dozen websites controlled by the central government and the Communist Party. The right-hand screenshots show that the same search on Sogou and Youdao return no results, only notices:
  • Sogou: "The keywords you entered may relate to content that does not comply with relevant laws and regulations" (您输入的关键词可能涉及不符合相关法律法规的内容)
  • Youdao: "Apologies, the content you are searching for may not comply with relevant laws, and search results cannot be displayed." (抱歉,您搜索的内容有可能不符合相关法律,搜索结果将不能被显示。)

These screenshots were taken the same day at around 3:50 and 6:10, respectively, and show that a search for "Ferrari Crashes" on Soso at 3:50 returned over 1/2 million results, from websites such as Sohu, QQ, Tudou, Ku6, and Youku. Less than three hours later the same search on Soso returned around 1,700, and all of the results on the first page were from Xinhua (in fact, all of the results I found on paging through the results were from Xinhua).

The top two screenshots below were also taken on the afternoon of the 19th, and show two Baidu Tieba users'  posts relating to the Ferrari crash:

The bottom two screenshots above were taken around 7:30 pm on the 19th, and show that visitors to these URLs are now told:
Apologies, the post you are trying to access does not exist.
The system will automatically shut this page in 10 seconds.
Warning: Baidu will handle all legally-compliant complaints in accordance with the law, and will not accept any payments.
Please utilize appropriate channels for making complaints, and do not believe those fraudulent actions of those criminals who take money to delete posts.
At around 11:45 pm on March 19, 2012, the Global Times published an English-language only report entitled "Ferrari Crash Information Hushed Up." An excerpt:
Almost all online information about a car crash on Sunday, in which a man driving a Ferrari was killed and his two female passengers injured, has been deleted overnight, triggering suspicions as to the identity of the deceased driver. . . . Sina deleted all microblog posts which mentioned the accident, and blocked online searches of the word "Ferrari." The Global Times also found that news reports about the crash were deleted from many web portals, such as Tencent's QQ online chat service.

June 2012

On May 31, 2012, the China-based portal web site published an article entitled "The Secret Beijing March 18 Ferrari Crash: Ling Jihua's Son Killed Having High-Speed 'Car Sex'." That article (pictured at right in a screenshot taken on June 3) was originally available here, but it has since been deleted. According to the article:
The most recent information exposed on Internet forums is that there were three people in the car, and the male driver was the son of Ling Jihua, and he died at the scene. Two women were severely injured, and after being sent to the hospital one of them died. The two women were students at Minzu University. The reason for the accident: the driver was engaged in high-speed "car sex" while driving.
These screenshots show that, at some time between March 19 and June 3, 2012, Baidu increased censorship of searches for "Ferrari crashes." (法拉利 车祸) In March, Baidu was restricting search results to about a dozen websites controlled by the central government and the Communist Party. By June 3, however, Baidu was returning no results, just a notice saying "Search results may not comply with relevant laws, regulations, and policies, and have not been displayed." (搜索结果可能不符合相关法律法规和政策,未予显示。)

The above screenshot, also taken on June 3, shows that Baidu was also censoring all search results for "Master Ling." (令公子)

These screenshots show that on June 3,  about the same time Baidu was blacklisting searches for "Ferrari Crashes" (法拉利 车祸), Soso was returning over 2 million (apparently) uncensored search results for the same query. Two days later, however, Soso was once again restricting search results for that same query to a white list of about dozen web sites controlled by the central government and the Communist Party, and was returning less than 30 thousand search results.

These screenshots show that, at the same time that Soso reinstituted its censorship of searches for "Ferrari Crashes," it also began censoring searches for "Master Ling" (令公子). On June 3, Soso was returning over 14 million (apparently) uncensored search results for that query. Two days later, however, Soso was restricting search results for that query to a white list of about dozen web sites controlled by the central government and the Communist Party, and was returning just over 130 thousand search results.

September 2012

On September 2, 2012, the state-sponsored Global Times reported:

The Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee has appointed Ling Jihua as head of the United Front Work Department of the CPC Central Committee, replacing Du Qinglin.
Ling will no longer hold the post as director of the General Office of the CPC Central Committee. Li Zhanshu has been appointed as the Office's director.

These screenshots, taken on September 3, show that both Baidu and Sina Weibo were still censoring "Ferrari Crash."

These screenshots, taken on September 3, show that, while Sina Weibo was no longer censoring "Ferrari," it was censoring searches for "Ferrari Ling" (法拉利 令).

These screenshots, taken in June and September, respectively, show that Baidu, like all major search engines in China, was restricting search results for both "Ling Jihua" (令计划) and "Ling Gu" (令谷) to white list of about a dozen web sites controlled by the central government and the Communist Party.

It is worth nothing that neither Sina Weibo nor Tencent Weibo were censoring searches for "Ling Gu."  Instead, as these screenshots show, they were deleting individual posts. The top screenshot shows that on September 3, there was a post from August 26 saying "Isda Ling Gu, this the name of this valley, the word Ling Gu is blocked." (艾斯达令谷,是这个峡谷的名字,令谷这个词被屏蔽)

The middle screenshot, taken September 4, shows the August 26 post still there, as well a new post (originally available at this URL) from that afternoon saying "The first thing people will ask, why was Ling Gu driving a luxury sports car worth 5,000,000 yuan." (人们首先会问,为什么令谷能开得起价值500万元的豪华跑车。)

The bottom screenshot, taken on September 5, shows that both of those posts have been deleted, and now the most recent result for a search for "Ling Gu" is from July 29.

A post about Ling Gu deleted from Tencent Weibo

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