In the wake of unprecedented protests in Hong Kong to push back a proposed China-extradition bill, China state-controlled media, internet censors, and state-sponsored computer hackers are working around the clock to block news coverage and distort information leaking into the mainland.
In China, all news media are effectively owned and controlled by the central government. All reporting is heavily censored and manipulated in order to portray the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in a positive light, and to push forward the party’s current agenda.
This week, China-state television stations have been misreporting the protests taking place in Hong Kong, downplaying the size of demonstrations and significantly underreporting the number of protesters involved. China Daily, a CCP-controlled newspaper, is also trying to counter outside media by reporting that there is widespread support among Hong Kong citizens for the the proposed extradition bill.
In addition, state media claim that protesters seen in video footage are actually demonstrating against the United States, rather than against the proposed extradition law.
While all television stations, radio stations, and official newspapers in China are carefully sanitized by the central government, the task of cleansing the internet of unapproved news and opinion is a much more difficult and complicated task. All internet traffic, both into and out from the mainland, flows through a single gateway and is carefully monitored by an elaborate system of routers and filters, often described as China’s “Great Firewall.” Western news services and social media platforms, including CNN, New York Times, Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, and many others, are completely blocked by the firewall.
However, communications from individuals using smartphones and chat software has proven to be much more difficult for Beijing to intercept. Reports have surfaced that, during the past week, state-sponsored computer hackers have been attacking the messaging platform Telegram, which is believed to be used by some protest organizers in order to coordinate demonstrations. Such hacking attempts have been traced back to IP addresses registered with Chinese government organizations.
According to the organization China Digital Times, the popular Internet search engine Weibo has also begun censoring articles and blogs that offer statements in support of protestors. The phrase “Let’s go Hong Kong,” for example, draws a blank response in search results.
Whether the CCP’s efforts to censor and combat news of the Hong Kong protests will ultimately be effective remains to be seen. Should enough news be carried into China simply by word of mouth, this alone would be enough to discredit China state media’s reporting, not only on Hong Kong, but also on a number of other sensitive subjects.