Why is The Word “Salt” Flagged by China’s Internet Censors?

16 Mar


From the outside, the choices of censors can seem bizarre. Take for example,  the situation in China. China is notorious for its internet censorship, and  government censors regularly delete posts on blogs and social media. Twitter and  Facebook are completely disabled. Jokingly called “the Great Firewall,” the  Chinese censorship department automatically flags undesirable content, and then human censors read each post and choose whether or not to  delete it.

Recently, a group of graduate students at Carnegie Mellon University  conducted a long-term project on what words are flagged by internet censors in  China. They traced the likelihood that a post would be deleted if it contained certain words. Most words that attracted the attention of censors were predictable: Tiananmen  Square, Tibet, Falun  Gong. Other words really surprised the researchers. Polynices  (the mythical son of Oedipus who supposedly encouraged anarchism) raises the  eyebrows the censors. Most surprisingly iodized salt is flagged. Why salt? After  the Fukushima earthquake, rumors spread around China that iodized salt could protect someone from radiation poisoning. In order to quell  that rumor, the Chinese government has been directly censoring it.

Chinese citizens evade the censors with clever methods. They often use slang  or homophones instead of directly addressing something. Also, they use Romanized letters (like English), which are not flagged by the search engines. Most clever  of all, they sometimes use images of text instead of text itself. Images are not  searchable on the web; they show up as blank space, unless you directly tag them  with a description. So, you can write something, take a picture of it, and post  the picture – completely under the radar.


Ya China~ /)_(\



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