Friday, December 1, 2023

Internet Censorship on the First Anniversary of the White Paper Movement

The White Paper Revolution, also known as the White Paper Movement, A4 Revolution, Blank Paper Protests, was a series of protests that occurred across China in November 2022. Protesters used blank sheets of paper as a form of silent protest to symbolize the government's censorship and suppression of free speech, and chanted slogans such as "End zero-COVID," "We want human rights," and "Down with the Communist Party!"Several factors contributed to the rise of the White Paper Revolution:

  • Frustration with the zero-COVID policy: The policy's strict measures, including mass lockdowns, travel restrictions, and mandatory quarantines, had caused significant economic disruption and social unrest. Many people felt that the policy was no longer sustainable and that the government was prioritizing control over people's well-being.
  • Anger over the Xinjiang fire: The protests were further fueled by a deadly fire that occurred in Urumqi, Xinjiang, on November 24, 2022. Ten people died in the fire, which many blamed on the lockdown restrictions that prevented residents from escaping the blaze. The incident sparked public outrage and reignited long-standing grievances about the government's treatment of minorities, particularly Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
  • Erosion of civil liberties: The Chinese government's tightening grip on dissent and freedom of expression in recent years also played a role in the protests. Many young people felt increasingly disillusioned with the political system and saw the protests as an opportunity to demand change.

These screenshots were taken in the morning on November 28, 2022 and show Tencent-owned Sogou and Qihoo, were censoring "White Paper Revolution" (白纸革命) and "White Paper Protests" (白纸抗议).

At that time Baidu's censorship was initially harder to spot, so I've annotated these screenshots so its easy to see: these screenshots were taken on November 28, 2022, and shows Baidu was restricting results for "White Paper Revolution" (白纸革命) to government and Party operated websites. "Black Paper Revolution" returns many more results from more diverse sources.

This screenshot shows by December 7 Baidu was completely censoring results for "White Paper Revolution" (白纸革命).

The following screenshots show how PRC websites were continuing, and in some cases increasing, censorship of this topic one year later.

Screenshots taken on December 1, 2023, showing Sogou and Qihoo were completely censoring search results for White Paper Protest, Movement, and Revolution.

Screenshots showing that in the year since the White Paper Movement Baidu went from restricting search results for that phrase to government and Party operated websites in 2022 to completely censoring search results in 2023.

Screenshot taken on December 1, 2023 showing Sina Weibo censoring searches for the hashtag "White Paper."

In the face of this extreme censorship, some Internet users in China nevertheless attempted to commemorate the anniversary online, as shown by these comments that, as of December 1, 2023, had not been censored by Baidu's Tieba (PostBar) forum operators.

Additional Information

Translation: Xu Zhiyong's Statement in His Own Defense

 Source: China Digital Times: On April 10, 2023, Xu Zhiyong, a well-known human rights de...