Using Text Messages and the Web to Dodge Censors, Organize Action in China

The Post continues its excellent coverage of internation e-politics today with an article on activists’ use of cell phones and the web to organize protests against a proposed chemical factory in China. Local authorities squelched mainstream media coverage and tried to intimidate organizers, but thousands turned out in the streets anyway.

Something unprecedented occurred that gave the demonstrators a power even they had not envisioned: Citizen journalists carrying cellphones sent text messages about the action to bloggers in Guangzhou and other cities, who then posted real-time reports for the entire country to see.

“The second police defense line has been dispersed,” Wen Yunchao, one such witness, typed to a friend in Guangzhou. “There is pushing and shoving. The police wall has broken down.”

Chinese tuned in to the blogosphere in great numbers, viewing written accounts and cellphone photographs. Sites carrying the live reports recorded thousands of hits. Some sites were knocked out by security monitors. But by then their reports had bounced to other sites around the country, keeping one step ahead of the censors. Many of those tuned in were traditional newspaper and magazine reporters whose editors were afraid to cover the protests because of warnings from the Xiamen party Propaganda Department.

“The Chinese government controls the traditional press, so the news circulated on the Internet and cellphones,” Wen, also a blogger, said later. “This showed that the Chinese people can send out their own news, and the authorities have no way to stop it entirely. This had so much impact. I think virtually every media worker in China was looking at it and keeping up with it.”

My favorite detail? That the local party has its own official Propaganda Office — I gotta get me one of those. Overall, a fascinating look at the power of the power of the online world to give citizens a voice. Perhaps one day the Chinese public will do more than just stop a chemical plant….


Written by
Colin Delany
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