China today cut citizens' access to MS search engine Bing, Flickr, Hotmail, MSN Spaces and Twitter - just two days before the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
In a move described by the Times as "hardly a co-incidence", the powers that be decided that services such as Twitter, which "allows words or phrases that bring up an automatic ban or block on most internet service providers in China" (for example "6/4" or "June 4"), will not be available to threaten state security.
Blogger Michael Anti, who now operates from outside the motherland, predicted the clampdown when he told China-based blog Danwei.org a few days back: “Twitter is a new thing in China. The censors need time to figure out what it is. So enjoy the last happy days of twittering before the fate of YouTube descends on it one day.”
He added: “I want to point out that the Chinese Twitterland is funnier than the English one*, for a Chinese tweet can have three times the volume of an English tweet, thanks to the high information intensity of the Chinese language. 140 Chinese characters can make up all the full elements of a news piece with the '5 Ws' (Who, What, Where, When and HoW). But the joy of the Chinese Twitterland is more fragile, and I hope that it will live longer in this country.”
Sadly not. Local reaction was summed up by noted Chinese blogger Flypig, who decried: “Now the 3 web services I cannot live without - Twitter, Flickr, YouTube - are all blocked in China. Cheers, motherf***ers!” ®
* Not a very impressive claim, it must be said. The Times notes that Chinese fans of "crosstalk" star Guo Degang are likely to be hit hard by the Twitter ban. The master of xiangsheng - a kind of pun-packed quickfire dialogue - is apparently China's equivalent of The Two Ronnies, and his followers use Twitter to share his latest quips. Whether he had some good Tiananmen Square gags brewing we may never know.