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U of T's Citizen Lab found China censored social media during the 709 Crackdown

China's social media apps censored posts as the Chinese government blocked discussions of police actions during the 709 Crackdown, say researchers at U of T's Citizen Lab (photo by Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images)

U of T's Citizen Lab reports that the Chinese government blocked discussion of its actions on social media while it was arresting, torturing and imprisoning human-rights lawyers.

Researchers at Citizen Lab, located at the Munk School of Global Affairs, discovered that WeChat, China’s digital-communication lifeblood, has censored 42 combinations of terms related to the “709 Crackdown,” the nationwide targeting by China’s police of nearly 250 human rights lawyers, activists, their staff and family, beginning on July 9, 2015.

Read about the findings at the Globe and Mail 

“Imagine if your favourite social media application silently censored your posts, but gave you no information about what topics are censored,” says Ron Deibert, director of U of T's Citizen Lab in his latest blog post about the findings.

“Imagine if everything seemed fine as you posted message after message and image after image, for days on end with no issues, but then occasionally one of your posts would simply not appear without explanation. And what if the messages or images you are prevented from posting sometimes seem connected with a controversial political issue, but other times not?  

“Unfortunately this Kafka-esque situation is the reality for well over a billion users of WeChat and Sina Weibo, two of China’s largest social media applications and among the largest in the world.”

Read more on Deibert's blog