Detention Signals Escalation in Internet Repression: Weibo User Detained for Apolitical Post

“There are people, because of the stock market crash, who have jumped off buildings in Beijing’s Financial Street.” This alarming Weibo post was enough to detain a 29-year-old man surnamed Tian for “disorderly behavior” on Friday. The post is no longer visible on Weibo.

Although details surrounding the case are scarce at the moment, the case appears to be a clear example of strong-armed censorship in the name of preserving stability. The case appears to be unique, however, in the sense that the post was not inherently political. Weibo users are routinely censored for political posts, but they are usually only detained if their posts directly criticize the government or attempt to organize others in protest of the government and become especially popular. Detention can also be levied on those who use Weibo to “spread rumors.”

Given that preliminary reports indicate that Chinese authorities shied from labeling the post in question as a rumor, it remains unclear why exactly Tian was detained. Authorities might have detained Tian in order to help stabilize the stock market. Authorities might have also detained Tian in order to warn Weibo users not to publicize alarmist news in the future. Growing evidence supports the latter motive, given that Tian’s post could have been censored without his detention that consequently brought even more attention to China’s unstable stock markets. If authorities detained Tian simply because he reported alarming news that was not chiefly political, his detention represents a disturbing escalation in Chinese internet repression.

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Censorship is the suppression of speech or other public communication which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient as determined by a government, media outlet or other controlling body. It can be done by governments and private organizations or by individuals who engage in self-censorship.