Social media allows censors in China to extend their reach farther than ever before, according to JMSC associate professor and media researcher Miklos Sukosd.
“On the one hand, Chinese social media services, like Sina Weibo, look like very efficient methods for social communication, with networks of hundreds of millions participants,” Sukosd said. “But in fact they also provide unprecedented opportunities for censorship and control.”
While China’s censors allow a lot of things to be discussed online, there are what Sukosd calls “islands of taboo” in what at first seems like an ocean of free speech:
“Criticism of the one-party system, challenges to the leading role of the Communist Party, human rights issues, negative comments about the national leaders of the Communist Party or their families or business interests – basically anything the government decides is taboo,” Sukosd said. “Postings about these topics is prevented by blacklists, or the posts are removed.”
Sukosd noted that in communist countries during the Cold War, underground essays known as samizdat, a Russian word for self-publishing to avoid censorship, provided a forum for the free expression of opinions and critical discussion of issues. Printed samizdat may have been slower and reached a smaller audience than email or social media today, he said, but it remained completely uncensored.
Sukosd’s remarks came in an interview about three papers he has presented at conferences over the past year: Underground Print Culture and Independent Political Communication in Communist Regimes, at the “Printing in the Age of Smart Media” conference in South Korea; How Chinese Netizens Discuss Environmental Conflicts, at the Oxford Internet Institute’s China and the New Internet World conference; and West of East: Media in Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia and China, at the “Media and Democracy” conference at Oxford’s St. Anthony’s College.
He is currently teaching Environmental Communication and co-teaching Critical Issues in Journalism and Global Communications.