China’s mass protests are undermining its censorship systems

China’s notorious internet police can’t keep up with a flood of videos exposing unrest in the secretive country – with frustrated residents protesting the government’s strict COVID lockdown rules.

A fearsome censorship regime can’t delete footage of heated demonstrations fast enough — and crafty protesters are using tricks to circumvent their systems, the New York Times reported Wednesday.

“This is a clear breach of the great silence,” Xiao Qiang, an internet freedom researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, told the publication.

Videos of protesters clashing with police or holding black placards have been circulating on social media for days – an unusual and courageous show of resistance in authoritarian China.

Footage posted on Twitter on Tuesday showed dozens of riot police in Guangzhou moving towards dismantled lockdown barriers as protesters threw objects at them.

Other videos showed police firing tear gas in the city’s Haizhu district.

Security officers in protective clothing detain a protester in Zhengzhou, central China’s Henan province.

The Communist Party’s top law enforcement body vowed in a statement on Tuesday that China would take tough measures against “infiltration and sabotage activities by enemy forces.”

The Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission also said it would not tolerate “illegal and criminal acts that disturb public order.”

But protest videos continue to spread.

According to Qiang, China’s reliance on automation to censor its citizens online has made it difficult to suppress social media resistance in part because events are filmed from multiple angles with multiple chances to go viral.

“Once the anger spills out onto the street, it becomes very difficult to censor,” Qiang said.

One former Chinese censor told the New York Times that Beijing will need to hire more executives and develop more sophisticated surveillance algorithms if it wants to stem the flood of videos circulating online.

Protesters have also come up with workarounds to circumvent state censorship – such as adding filters or capturing videos of videos being played on other devices – in a crafty and seemingly successful bid.

Footage of Chinese protesters throwing objects at police
People threw objects at security forces during a protest near Apple supplier Foxconn’s factory in Zhengzhou.

A growing number of protesters are also using virtual private networks and similar software that allow them to access services such as Instagram and Twitter, which are banned from China’s internet.

Reports over the weekend said police in China were confiscating cellphones, searching for photos or videos from protests and deleting them along with any VPN software.

Last week’s deadly fire in the far western city of Urumqi sparked days of defiance, where rescue efforts were reportedly hampered by the country’s strict COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.

The city was under the siege of COVID for 100 days.

Screenshot of Chinese protesters clashing with police
Videos of protesters clashing with police have been released despite attempts by censors to remove them from Chinese platforms.

By Sunday, protests had reached major cities such as Nanjing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, as well as the capital, Beijing.

Protests over Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s intensive lockdown policy, nominally called zero-covid, to stop the spread of the pandemic have turned into a referendum on Xi’s ascension to power.

The leader recently broke with Chinese Communist Party tradition and appointed himself to lead the nation for a third term.

Although the government has yet to accede to the protesters’ demands, the cities of Guangzhou and Chongqing announced on Wednesday that some of their COVID quarantine rules were being relaxed.

A man with a long pole confronted the police in China
Violent protests erupted across the country in response to China’s strict quarantine policy.
AFPTV/AFP via Getty Images

The statement came after Beijing’s health authorities on Monday announced a drive to encourage older Chinese to get the COVID 19 vaccine – seen by some as a harbinger of a reversal of the lockdown policy.

Only two-thirds of Chinese people over the age of 80 have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and less than half have received a booster.

In contrast, 93% of Americans 65 and older are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

With post wires

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