Unmasking News in Cyberspace: Examining Censorship Patterns of News Portal Sites in China

25 Pages Posted: 16 Jun 2018

See all articles by Sonya Y. Song

Sonya Y. Song

Quello Center for Telecommunication Management and Law; Michigan State University

Fei Shen

City University of Hong Kong (CityUHK); Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

Mike Yao

Independent

Steven S. Wildman

Quello Center; Michigan State University; University of Colorado at Boulder

Date Written: June 14, 2013

Abstract

Internet censorship has been attracting much attention from scholars and institutes, and several aspects have been studied, including IP blocking, keywords filtering and deletion in social media. However, although news is frequently subject to censorship, censorial practices in news websites have never been comprehensively described or quantified. In this paper, we present the first empirical study to systematically examine news deletion on major news portals inside China, focusing on NetEase and Sina Beijing. Sina North America, which was found not to delete news, was used as a control. To automatically detect and archive news deletions, we developed a computer program and from October 30, 2011 to September 27, 2012 crawled nearly two thousand news articles deleted from the two domestic portals and none from the oversea one. Many of deleted news stories overlap across websites, which implies systematic control of content, the quintessential component of censorship, as opposed to editorial operations. Moreover, statistical analyses have revealed common patterns that are associated with higher likelihood of news deletion, and they are negative news, domestic news, news occurring in Beijing and/or having a nationwide impact, topical news covering politics, food and drugs, foreign affairs and military. Indeed, these patterns are well aligned with the goals of censorship (Peleg, 1993) and further suggest censorship over journalistic management. Surprisingly though, party organs, those news organizations tightly affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party, published a considerable amount of deleted news and did not give up the role of whistleblowers completely to commercial news media. Also distinct from prior studies, Tibet and other outlying areas were not predictors of news deletion, while they were for social media censorship (Bamman, O’Connor, Smith, 2012). Quite the opposite, news originating from Beijing and surrounding provinces was more likely to be deleted.

Keywords: Telecommunication Policy, Internet Censorship, Journalism, China

Suggested Citation

Song, Sonya Y. and Shen, Fei and Yao, Mike and Wildman, Steven S., Unmasking News in Cyberspace: Examining Censorship Patterns of News Portal Sites in China (June 14, 2013). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2275437 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2275437

Sonya Y. Song (Contact Author)

Quello Center for Telecommunication Management and Law; Michigan State University ( email )

Communication Arts and Sciences Building
404 Wilson Road Room 409
East Lansing, MI 48824
United States

Fei Shen

City University of Hong Kong (CityUHK) ( email )

83 Tat Chee Avenue
Kowloon
Hong Kong

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Mike Yao

Independent ( email )

No Address Available

Steven S. Wildman

Quello Center ( email )

409 Communication Arts & Sciences Building
East Lansing, MI 48824-1212
United States
517-432-8004 (Phone)

Michigan State University ( email )

Agriculture Hall
East Lansing, MI 48824-1122
United States

University of Colorado at Boulder ( email )

1070 Edinboro Drive
Boulder, CO 80309
United States

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