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How the spread of COVID-19 was censored on Chinese social media

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Social media plays an integral role in the People’s Republic of China. WeChat, for example, is the most popular messaging app in China with over one billion active users. It has become increasingly popular among doctors, who use it to share knowledge with their peers.

Nonetheless, when doctors voiced their concerns about the spread of COVID-19 back in December 2019, information on the spread of the outbreak was censored on Chinese social media. The Chinese public was kept in the dark for three weeks until January 21, when People’s Daily, China’s national newspaper, mentioned the COVID-19 outbreak the same day that China’s president, Xi Jinping, publicly acknowledged that it was a problem.

The University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab is an interdisciplinary research laboratory at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy. In the past, its reports have uncovered digital security and human rights violations, including a co-investigation with Whatsapp into spyware targeting journalists.

Researchers from the Citizen Lab investigated COVID-19 censorship on Chinese social media — where some of the first reported cases of information control occurred during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Key findings: 516 WeChat keyword combinations censored

Reports of Chinese government suppression of COVID-19 information emerged early into the Wuhan outbreak. The Citizen Lab report released on March 3 investigates how this censorship occurred on two social media platforms: the messaging service application WeChat and the live-streaming platform YY. 

The report found that as early as December 31, 2019, the day after Dr. Li Wenliang and colleagues reported the outbreak in WeChat groups, YY began censoring 45 keywords that referenced COVID-19. These included terms pertaining to factual description of COVID-19 as well as references to the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, the location considered as the source of the novel coronavirus.

For WeChat, researchers found that the scope of censorship increased in the period from January 1 to February 15, in which 516 keyword combinations were censored. Censored WeChat content covered a wide range of topics, including references to the top leaders in China responsible for handling the outbreak, along with any mentions of government policies in regard to handling the outbreak.

The scope of the censorship also extended to blocking references to COVID-19 in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau; factual information about COVID-19; references to Dr. Li Wenliang; calls for petition; and related speculative information.

While some blocked keyword combinations included critical content regarding government policies or top leaders’ handling of the outbreak, the Citizen Lab reported that combinations of neutral terms, such as “肺炎 [+] 李克强 [+] 武汉 [+] 总理 [+] 北京,” which translates to “Pneumonia + [Chinese Premier] Li Keqiang + Wuhan + Premier + Beijing,” were also blocked from use on the site.

Methodology and consequences

The Varsity contacted the researchers about the evidence used to arrive at the conclusion of censorship.

“We used reverse-engineering and sample testing to track censorship on WeChat and YY,” Lotus Ruan, one of the researchers, wrote. “As such, we were able to observe what keywords triggered censorship on each platform. We then performed content analysis on these keywords to contextual [sic] our findings.”

Such censorship is damaging, given that WeChat is integral to many people’s lives in China. Having readily available information enables clinicians to optimize the treatment of their patients, and it allows epidemiologists to offer real-time guidance on how to contain the outbreak, including allowing for their assessments of various interventions.

“The broad censorship may restrict vital communication related to disease information and prevention among users and end up harming public health,” Ruan wrote.

For example, while scientific literature demonstrated human-to-human transmission, local authorities failed to promptly inform the public. As a result, more than five million people left Wuhan for Chinese New Year or other reasons, spreading the novel coronavirus both within Wuhan and internationally.

WeChat and YY did not respond to The Varsity’s requests for comment.

Source: – Varsity

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Indonesia to deport Russian social media star who held party – Delta-Optimist

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DENPASAR, Indonesia — A Russian social media celebrity was being deported from Indonesia on Sunday after he held a party at a luxury hotel on the resort island of Bali attended by more than 50 people despite coronavirus restrictions.

The party held on Jan. 11 violated health protocols put in place to fight the spread of the virus, said Jamaruli Manihuruk, chief of the Bali regional office for the Ministry of Law and Human Rights.

Sergei Kosenko, who has more than 4.9 million followers on his Instagram account, arrived in Indonesia in October on a tourist visa.

Immigration officials in Bali decided to examine Kosenko’s activities after he posted to social media a video of him driving a motorcycle with a female passenger on the back off a pier into the sea in December. The stunt was condemned by many Indonesians as reckless and a potentially hazardous to the environment.

Manihuruk said the immigration investigation found Kosenko took part in activities that violated his tourist visa, such as promoting companies and products.

After the announcement of his deportation, Kosenko told reporters at the immigration office in Bali that he was sorry.

“I love Bali. I am sorry and I apologize,” Kosenko said.

The deportation comes just days after Indonesia deported an American woman who had been living on Bali over her viral tweets that celebrated the island as a low-cost, “queer-friendly” place for foreigners to live. Her posts were considered to have “disseminated information disturbing to the public,” which was the basis for her deportation.

Indonesia has temporarily restricted foreigners from coming to the country since Jan. 1 to control the spread of COVID-19, and public activities have been restricted on Java and Bali islands.

Bali regional office for the Ministry of Law and Human Rights recorded 162 foreigners have been deported from Bali in 2020 and 2021. Most of them are being deported for violating the visit visa.

Firdia Lisnawati, The Associated Press

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China rescues first person from Shandong gold mine: state media – The Guardian

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By Dominique Patton

BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese rescuers pulled 11 gold miners to safety on Sunday, 14 days after they were trapped by an underground explosion, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

Footage showed the first miner to be rescued, a black blindfold across his eyes, being lifted out of a mine shaft in the morning.

The miner was extremely weak, CCTV said on its Weibo site. Rescue workers wrapped the barely responsive man in a blanket before taking him to hospital by ambulance.

Over the next few hours, 10 miners from a different section of the mine, who had been receiving food and supplies from rescue workers last week, were brought out in batches.

One was injured but several of the others were shown walking, supported by rescue workers and wearing black cloth over their eyes, before leaving the site in ambulances.

Twenty-two workers were trapped about 600 metres (2,000 feet) underground in the Hushan mine by the Jan. 10 blast in Qixia, a major gold-producing region under the administration of Yantai in coastal Shandong province.

One miner has died.

Officials said on Thursday it could take another two weeks to clear “severe blockages” before they could drill shafts to reach the group of 10 who had been receiving supplies of food from the rescue team.

State media said earlier however that the more than 600 rescuers on site were hoping to reach the men in the mine’s fifth section on Sunday.

The men were said to be in good physical condition and had been receiving normal food since Saturday, after several days of living off nutrient solutions, according to Xinhua.

Interactive graphic of mine rescue: https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-ACCIDENT/MINE/xklvylmnbpg/index.html

Graphic: Explosion in a gold mine in northern China’s Shandong province https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-ACCIDENT/MINE/yxmpjynakvr/CHINA-MINE.jpg

(Reporting by Dominique Patton; Editing by Tom Hogue, Robert Birsel and Wiliam Mallard)

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China rescues first person from Shandong gold mine: state media – TheChronicleHerald.ca

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BEIJING (Reuters) – A gold miner was rescued in northern China on Sunday morning and rushed to hospital for treatment, state broadcaster CCTV reported, with footage showing the exhausted miner, a black blindfold across his eyes, being lifted out of a mine shaft.

The miner was “extremely weak”, CCTV said on its Weibo site. Rescue workers wrapped the barely responsive man – who had been trapped 14 days after a mine explosion – in a blanket before taking him away in an ambulance.

Twenty-two workers were trapped in the Hushan mine by the Jan. 10 blast in Qixia, a major gold-producing region under the administration of Yantai in coastal Shandong province.

One miner has died and 11 have not been in contact with rescue teams, according to a Xinhua report from last week.

The rescued miner was found in a different section of the mine from a group of 10 men who have been receiving supplies of food. Officials said on Thursday it could take another two weeks to clear “severe blockages” before they could drill shafts to reach the 10 men.

The People’s Daily reported on its news app, however, that rescuers were hoping to reach the 10 men in the mine’s 5th section on Sunday, citing the military.

Graphic: Explosion in a gold mine in northern China’s Shandong province https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-ACCIDENT/MINE/yxmpjynakvr/CHINA-MINE.jpg

(Reporting by Dominique Patton; Editing by Tom Hogue)

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