The team behind anti-censorship not-for-profit GreatFire.org has turned on a new service designed to allow micro-bloggers in China to recover censored Sina Weibo posts, in a move which won't go down well with Beijing.
Decrypt Weibo comes from GreatFire’s FreeWeibo project and, as the name suggests, is a decrypting tool which allows users to read those posts which Sina Weibo admins have replaced with the euphemistic message: “Sorry, this weibo is not suitable for the public. Please contact customer support for help.”
A post on GreatFire.org on Wednesday explained the following:
Weibo users will see this message often when viewing their own timelines, conducting searches on Sina Weibo or when viewing someone’s profile page. The retweet of the censored weibo is however sometimes not censored. Weibo users are thus left with an intriguing comment but have no way to view the original weibo.
In an effort to solve this problem, Freeweibo.com is pleased to announce the launch of Decrypt Weibo.
When they see the “not suitable for public” message in future, users need only click on the time it was posted, in the lower left-hand corner, and they will be given the URL of the deleted post.
It’s then as simple as copying that link into Decrypt Weibo, after which the tool will automatically decrypt the original message.
GreatFire claimed it had taken a “big step forward” in launching the tool but admitted that the current government crack down on “online rumours” could make users self-censor before they even post messages:
Given recent events surrounding Weibo big Vs [big Vs are China's equivalent of verified Twitter users] practicing self-censorship, perhaps there will be less controversial content which needs to be censored. However, we also know that one message can make a big difference, and we are delighted to be able to provide Sina Weibo users with the ability to see this information whenever they want to.
In emailed comments to The Reg, GreatFire.org co-founder Charlie Smith claimed that it would be “near impossible” for Sina Weibo to effectively close Decrypt Weibo down without making “fundamental changes” to the way the microblogging platform operates.
“The effort required to make the changes would be a big enough problem that Sina would wish many times that they did not have to censor content on the web site,” he added. “It would also require a significant investment of man hours to make the necessary changes to counteract what we are doing.”
GreatFire.org has of late been a constant thorn in the side of the authorities and the web platform giants which are forced to self-censor user-generated content in order to keep their license to operate.
Last year it launched FreeWeibo.com, a site offering users completely uncensored Sina Weibo search, based on blocked data provided by GreatFire and the WeiboScope project run by the journalism school at Hong Kong University.
Smith revealed that so far there had been no attempts by the authorities to block FreeWeibo, although that could be because it’s not yet popular enough to warrant such attention.
“Sina's likely reaction to our new service will be to inform the authorities about our presence - but they have certainly already done this before - and put the matter in the hands of the police,” he added.
“The police won't find us and won't be able to shut us down which means that they would have to shut down the entire Sina Weibo service to stop us doing what we are doing. This would lead to a massive public outcry.” ®