Literature Review Censorship of Social Media in China


Literature Review

Social media censorship is a controversial issue. The continuousdevelopment and widespread use of the internet has brought about thegrowing concern of censorship, specifically social media censorship.This is because of the disagreement on whether civilians should beable to express their ideas freely using social media websites. Onthe other hand, are contentions on if the government reserves theright to control what information its citizens exchange online(MacKinnon, 2011). Censorship refers to the restraint of publishingor access to information using the internet (Taubman, 1998). Therestriction is mainly executed by administrations or privateentities. Reasons for censorship derive from the emerging concern onthe impact of information, which people exchange using social mediawebsites. Although a government may feel that, it reserves the rightto censor social media, it is important to put into consideration theimplications to social media users (MacKinnon, 2011).

China has the largest figure of social media users (Euan, 2015),which is ironic considering that the Chinese government highlycensors social media. Most of the international social networkingwebsites like twitter and facebook are impossible to access when inChina (King, Pan &amp Roberts, 2013). Even when a social networkwebsite has not being blocked, the censorship process startsimmediately after submitting a post online. The post is eitherinstantly prevented from appearing online through automated keywordfilters, or sent to a censor for review. Research demonstrates that66 of 100 social media websites in China use an automatic filter,which reviews all posts (Zhao, 2008). Automatic filters evaluate thecontent with the objective of detecting any masked phrases, sensitiveor taboo words. Masked phrases are instantly replaced with anasterisk, sensitive words remain under censorship, while taboo wordsare instantly deleted.

Continued Chinese social media censorship demonstrates that thegovernment does not practice pure democracy. According to Xue (2005),internet democracy may be regarded as the most just and civilizedtype of democracy. The lack of pure democracy means that civiliansare not able to express their views freely. Research conducted byZhao (2008) demonstrates that the Chinese administration censors anycontent criticizing the government, specifically information that islikely to provoke collective action like public demonstrations. Inits defense, government argues that it is necessary to take down suchinformation to avoid triggering unmanageable social events. Forinstance, the Egypt protests that were coordinated using social mediaand quickly resulted in the downfall of the Mubarak command(Hassanpour, 2011). However, under democratic governance, civilianshave a right to express their views freely concerning theirgovernment.

In order to continue expressing their views, Chinese civilians haveresorted to other forms of social networking like blogging, chatroomsand homemade websites. An illustration is Sina Webo that is the mainsocial media platform in China. Research shows that Sina Weibocomprises of above 400 million netizens (Qin, 2014). However, thegovernment still manages to censor information from Chinese-basedwebsites, which has resulted in creativity amid netizens on how toavoid censorship. Most of the social media users are aged between20-25 years, who feel that the government initiative is largelyunfair. Thus, they edit their phrases to replace sensitive words withless obvious ones. For instance, when posting to social media theabbreviation “CPC” replaces the entire party name “CommunistParty of China” (King, Pan &amp Roberts, 2013).

Chinese citizens also circumvent censorship through proxy servers.Other citizens may resort to using the virtual private network andsecure shell. Proxy servers are servers situated amid a user andwebsite. They make it possible for an individual to post informationon social media as anonymous (Infosec Institute, 2014). Thevirtual private network and secure shell are more effective inevading censorship because they do not operate on free proxies.Regrettably, such efforts to evade censorship have been futile inChina. The Chinese administration is constantly enhancing its effortsat censorship. To avoid circumventing, the government blocks thedomain name comprising of the phrase virtual private network, vpn,which include vpn,co, and among others (Infosec Institute,2014). Individuals that post content considered to violate socialmedia censorship are frequently fined and detained. An illustrationwas the three years imprisonment of Qin Zhihui for supposedlyprovoking trouble using the website Sina Weibo. Zhihui was imprisonedbecause of online rumormongering, which Chinese law defines as thespread of false content using social media resulting in massiveviewership (Infosec Institute, 2014).

The outcome of such censorship is enhanced anxiety among netizens,mainly between the ages of 20 to 25. China’s social mediacensorship results in anxiety due to the history of administrativereprimands for the creation and use of information. According toRoberts (2014), the Chinese government does not just imprisonbloggers and different netizens regularly, but has a past ofinformation rules, which have had an apparent objective of causingapprehension in consumers and publishers of information. When acitizen notes that their post or of another individual has beencensored, they feel that the government is in objection of theircontent, creating the impression that there exists an unknownpossibility that progressing to post may endanger their lives(Roberts, 2014). Additionally, if the citizen refutes censorship, theanxious response could result in dissatisfaction with governmentrules, inducing more negative government views (Roberts, 2014).


Euan, M. (2015, February 04). China`s online users more than doubleentire U.S. population. CNN News. Retrieved from

Hassanpour, N. (2011). Media disruption exacerbates revolutionaryunrest: Evidence from Mubaraks natural experiment. APSA 2011Annual Meeting Paper.

Infosec Institute. (2014, October 15). Chinese social mediacensorship. Retrieved from

King, G., Pan, J &amp Roberts, M. E. (2013). How censorship in Chinaallows criticism but silences collective expression. AmericanPolitical Science Review, 1-18.

MacKinnon, R. (2011). Chinas networked authoritarianism. Journalof Democracy, 22(2), 32-46.

Qin, G. (2014, April). Sina Weibo: a mutual communication apparatusbetween the Chinese government and Chinese citizens. China MediaResearch, 10(2), 72.

Roberts, M. E. (2014). Fear or fiction? How censorship slows thespread of information in the digital age. Harvard Review,1-33.

Taubman, G. (1998). A not-so world wide web: the Internet, China, andthe challenges to nondemocratic rule. Political Communication15(2):255–272.

Xue, S. (2005). Internet policy and diffusion in China, Malaysia andSingapore. Journal of Information Science, 31(238), 238-250.

Zhao, J. (2008). A snapshot of internet regulation in contemporyChina: censorship, profitability and responsibility. China MediaResearch, 4(3), 37-42.