The limits of Bolton’s revelations in China go beyond not covering the matter: there is evidence that the book was censored on two of the largest Internet platforms in China.
Users of Weibo, a service similar to Twitter, complained that they were unable to comment on the book or share passages from it, while on WeChat, China’s largest messaging app, posts about Bolton appeared to be hidden or removed. CNN was able to upload a screenshot of the book’s cover to WeChat, but no contact was able to see the resulting post.
It is unclear exactly what triggers the censorship, as some posts about the book are allowed, including reports in the Chinese media.
Yan Duan, a Beijing office worker, said she was blocked from her WeChat account after sharing a PDF of the book in a group message. You received the notification: “As this WeChat account is suspected of spreading false information, the current login is disabled.”
“A friend of mine expressed interest in the book, so I thought I could send the file directly,” she said, after receiving it from another WeChat contact. “There appears to be a censorship window. The file was shareable before. But afterward, I heard many incidents where the messages were hidden or the sender was banned like me.”
Representatives for Sina and Tencent, which operate Weibo and WeChat respectively, did not respond to a request for comment.
‘Ask the USA’
The Great Firewall, and Chinese censorship in general, is a black box, and the exact purpose of any particular block can be difficult to determine, be it the work of individual censors or a top-down command to control coverage.
This is especially the case in a topic where some discussion is allowed, but certain elements are off limits.
According to Tetsushi Takahashi, head of the China office of the Nikkei newspaper, a report on Japanese public broadcaster NHK about Bolton was blocked in China. Foreign television channels, including CNN, are often censored in this way.