By Sophie Beach On March 24, 2012, investigative journalist Yang Haipeng posted on his Sina Weibo microblog a story he had heard that alleged a link between Neil Heywood, an English businessman who had been found dead in a Chongqing hotel, and Bo Xilai, the powerful Chongqing Communist Party chief.
His post is widely recognized as the first significant public mention of a connection between the two men and it spread like wildfire online before being deleted the next day.
Some terms will prevent a post from being published at all; others will mark it for editorial review, while other terms cannot be searched through the platform’s search engine, making those posts difficult to access.
China Digital Times researches and maintains lists of terms banned by Sina Weibo search and has collected almost 2,000 banned or temporarily banned search words since April 2011.
This in turn influences public opinion of, and political responses to, certain events.
News of the high-speed train crash in Wenzhou in 2011, which killed 40 people, first broke on weibo.
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Since his account was first closed in April 2012, Yang Haipeng has tried at least 65 times to reopen a Sina Weibo account with various coded user names, but each time his account has been closed.
According to a detailed exposé from Hong Kong-based Phoenix Weekly, which was widely distributed through Chinese cyberspace when it was published in March 2012, Sina has created a three-tier monitoring system, which works in tandem with the filtered keyword system described above.
Bill Bishop, Beijing-based editor of the Sinocism newsletter, tells CPJ that Sina rose to the top of the market both by building a great product and because, “it knew what it needed to do to stay in good graces with the government, unlike Fanfou.” Microblog platforms use a variety of methods to comply with government censorship requests.
Keyword filtering is the most widely deployed method to limit content.
The first tier uses technology to search for banned keywords.