China blocks Twitter before Tiananmen

“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,” veteran Chinese blogger Michael Anti told the media blog Danwei in a May 27 interview.

The fate suffered by YouTube, which has been unavailable in China since late March, came down late Tuesday afternoon, according to international news reports. Twitter, a site for unusually free discussion about Thursday’s 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen violence in 1989, was suddenly inaccessible for Chinese users. A project by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University called Herdict logs individual user experiences of the site’s accessibility on its Web site. Numerous other sites also appeared to be newly blocked, including e-mail host Hotmail, and the photo-sharing site Flickr, according to international news reports.

Technologically savvy Twitter users within China soon reappeared on the site, courtesy of proxy servers and other software that allows them to circumvent the restriction. The online community spread the news of the ban, which was then reported by international news outlets including Reuters and the London-based Guardian.

Chinese Internet users without that know-how were left with one less opportunity to exchange information about the upcoming anniversary. By the time Twitter user Zuola, a well-known Chinese blogger, tweeted the news that Chinese security officials had asked him to leave Beijing for a few days, he was addressing a mostly international audience.

CPJ is on Twitter as @pressfreedom.