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domingo, maio 01, 2005

Breaking down the Great Firewall

holes became more evident during the recent anti-Japan protests as a complex system of text messages, blogs, online instant messages, e-mail and bulletin board systems spread word about the marches.
For weeks leading up to the protests, messages coursed through the internet in e-mail, blogs and instant messages, and in short message service (SMS) texts over mobile phone networks.

On websites, people circumvented government filters by changing the spelling of the Chinese word for protest or using coded words.

Instead of a protest, they would call it a "spring outing", said Andrea Leung, who writes the blog T-Salon, which covers China and politics.

Chinese internet users also used social book-marking systems similar to del.icio.us and Furl in the United States, Ms Leung said.

Social bookmarks allow people to save and categorise a list of their favourite sites online.

Others internet users can see people's collections and subscribe to them. It helped other users quickly find information on the protests.

Protest organisers also used instant messaging networks and the internet phone and chat system called Skype, which the Chinese authorities cannot block, to pass along messages, she added.

SMS has proven its effectiveness in organising protests:

* Text message-obsessed Filipinos used SMS to help bring down President Joseph Estrada in 2001. Organisers say text messages accelerated the scandal-ridden Estrada's exit by two months to two years.

* In the wake of the 2004 Madrid bombings, protests were quickly organised using SMS calling for greater transparency in the investigation. It became known as "the night of short text messages".

* TXTmob, a free SMS broadcast service, was used to organise protesters in the US during the Republican and Democratic conventions and the Bush inauguration as well as helping drive the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine.

* In March, opposition leaders in Lebanon used telephones, e-mail and text messaging to organise massive anti-Syrian protests after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

It is not even the first time that SMS has been used to organise protests in China.

In December, 12,000 workers went on strike at the factory of a supplier of Wal-Mart.

The workers were not part of a union but used SMS and a blog to organise the strike.

There are more mobile phones in China than people in the US - some 350 million.

So when the authorities wanted to cool passions surrounding the anti-Japan protests, officials in Shanghai sent out a text message saying: "We ask people to express your patriotic passion through the right channel, following the laws and maintaining order."

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Breaking down the Great Firewall


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