China’s infamous internet police can’t keep up with the massive volume of videos exposing unrest in the secretive nation – as weary locals protest against the government’s draconian COVID lockdown rules.
The feared censorship regime can’t take down footage of the bustling protests quickly enough – while cunning protesters are also using tricks to evade their systems, The New York Times reported on Wednesday.
“This is a decisive break from the great silence,” Xiao Qiang, an internet freedom researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, told the publication.
Videos of protesters confronting police or waving black sheets of paper in defiance have been circulating on social media for days – an atypical and courageous display of resistance in authoritarian China.
Footage posted to Twitter on Tuesday shows dozens of riot police in Guangzhou moving in formation towards demolished lockdown barriers as protesters threw objects at them.
Other videos showed police deploying tear gas in the city’s Haizhu district.
The Communist Party’s top law enforcement authority pledged in a statement on Tuesday that China would crack down on “the infiltration and sabotage activities of hostile forces.”
The Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission also said it would not tolerate “illegal and criminal acts that disrupt social order”.
But the protest videos continue to circulate.
According to Qiang, China’s reliance on automation to censor its citizens online has, in part, made it difficult to crack down on social media resistance, as the incidents were filmed from multiple angles with multiple chances of going viral. .
“Once the anger spills onto the streets, it becomes much harder to censor it,” Qiang said.
A former Chinese censor told the New York Times that Beijing would need to hire many more guards – and develop more sophisticated surveillance algorithms – if it was to stem the torrent of videos circulating online.
Protesters have also discovered workarounds — adding filters or making videos of videos played on other devices — in a cunning and seemingly successful attempt to outwit state censors.
A growing number of protesters are also beginning to use virtual private networks — and similar software — that allow them to access services like Instagram and Twitter, which are banned on the internet in China.
Reports over the weekend said police in China were confiscating cellphones, searching for photos or videos of protests and deleting them – along with any VPN software.
The days of defiance were sparked by a deadly fire last week in the far western city of Urumqi, in which rescue efforts were reportedly hampered by the country’s strict COVID lockdown restrictions.
The city had been under COVID lockdown for 100 days.
By Sunday, protests had reached major cities like Nanjing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, as well as the capital, Beijing.
The protests, nominally over Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s so-called zero-COVID policy of intense lockdowns to halt the spread of the pandemic, have become a referendum on Xi’s grip on power.
The leader recently broke with the tradition of the Chinese Communist Party and nominated himself for a third term as head of the country.
Although the government has yet to acknowledge protesters’ demands, the cities of Guangzhou and Chongqing on Wednesday announced a relaxation of some COVID quarantine rules.
The announcement comes after health authorities in Beijing announced a campaign on Monday to encourage older Chinese people to receive the COVID 19 vaccine – which some have seen as a harbinger of changing lockdown policies.
Only two-thirds of Chinese over 80 have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and less than half are boosted.
In contrast, 93% of Americans 65 and older are fully immunized, according to the CDC.
With post wires
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