China’s Twitter Is Censoring Posts That Criticize The Smog Problem

CREDIT: Kyodo News/AP

Heavy smog in Harbin, China.

Heavy smog in Harbin, China.

Heavy smog in Harbin, China.

CREDIT: Kyodo News/AP

China’s most popular social media site has been quickly censoring posts that criticize the country’s response to the horrifying smog problem, according to various media reports.

In a rare show of defiance against the Chinese government, the country’s state-run media site last week published two critical articles on the government’s environmental failures. Both posts were shared on Sina Weibo — a site most commonly likened to “China’s Twitter” — but were quickly deleted, both the New York Times and Reuters reported.

China Central Television’s articles criticize both the public’s and the government’s response to the smog, which this week reached 20 times the level considered safe by the World Health Organization. The first article starts with the line “Does anyone still care about Beijing’s smog?” while the other was titled “Beijing municipal government, don’t hide behind the thick smog.”

“The people have grown numb,” the channel wrote, saying the government must “protect its territory and not act ignorant.”

In addition to those two articles, references on Sina Weibo to a Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences report calling Beijing “unlivable” were also deleted, according to a report in Radio Free Asia.

It is likely the Chinese government dictates what is censored on Sina Weibo, and not the company that operates the site itself. Sina Weibo is owned by private company Sina Corp., which recently announced it is considering spinning the site off in an IPO, and likely does not have interests in censoring comments. The Chinese government, however, employs an internet police force of approximately 50,000 people who collaborate with an additional 300,000 Communist Party members to operate what has been called the “most extensive effort to selectively censor human expression ever implemented.”

And as Reuters notes, China Central Television’s articles will not be taken lightly by “the stability-obsessed government, which is keen to be seen as tough on pollution as affluent city dwellers weary of a growth-at-all-costs economic model that has tainted much of China’s air, water and soil.”

China’s choking air pollution came back in the news this week as Beijing and large areas of northern and central China have been locked in a 7-day shroud of dangerous smog, the likes of which haven’t been seen for months. China National Radio reported that the number of asthma and emphysema patients seeking help at Beijing hospitals had doubled since the smog first settled in on Thursday.

“China’s pollution is at an unbearable stage,” Li Junfeng, director general of the National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation, said at the time. “It’s like a smoker who needs to quit smoking at once otherwise he will risk getting lung cancer.”

And it’s not just Chinese residents who should be worried about their smog. A study published in January in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that pollution blown in from China can account for 12 to 24 percent of sulfate concentrations on any given day in the United States.

China currently relies on coal for about 70 percent of its power generation, and about a fifth of China’s air pollution comes from the manufacture of goods for export to other countries, including the United States. If the country continues on its current track, China will be dumping 4 billion tonnes of carbon pollution into the atmosphere every year.