As large parts of the Chinese population protest against China’s strict zero-covid policies, the government has found itself struggling to keep up its notorious firewall.
Today, reports stated that Chinese people are being stopped in the streets and at train stations, with the local cops searching phones for any sign of banned social media apps such as Twitter, Instagram, and the encrypted messaging platform Telegram.
“The move to forcefully check people’s phones is determined randomly,” tweeted William Yang, the East Asia correspondent at the German outlet DW News. “Anyone can be stopped and have their phones checked by police, and it can happen anywhere from on the street or at entrances to shopping malls.”
There have been counter-protests, reported Yang, with some people taking to the streets to warn protestors about “external anti-China forces.” It seems the protestors were not buying that. China, they said, has brought this on itself. “We can’t even connect to the internet abroad,” said one protestor, according to Yang. “Where are the external forces? We only have internal forces preventing us from gathering.”
It seems this kind of thinking is gathering momentum, with more Chinese citizens now using virtual private networks to organize protests. The proverbial straw might have broken the camel’s back, which is why Chinese cops are now pulling people over just to see if they have any photos of the protests stored in their phones.
The Chinese government is fighting back, employing methods of censorship that are not exactly traditional. Today, The Washington Post said that Twitter is under attack from what are likely Chinese government-connected accounts. The platform has been spammed by a large influx of adult-themed messages, so if anyone tries to search for a city in China, rather than see a photo of the protests or people calling for Communist Party leader Xi Jinping to step down, all they get is links to escort agencies or some other kind of sex-related content.
A former Twitter employee said this kind of thing has happened before, but now that Twitter’s workforce has been severely depleted, Twitter is struggling to get a handle on the spam. Twitter has said it is “working to resolve” the issue.
In a country where explicit criticism of the government can get a person in deep trouble, many citizens are now letting their feelings be known in a less explicit way. Large groups of protestors have been seen merely holding up white pieces of paper, with the messages on the paper sometimes cryptic, but often the paper is blank. One of the protestors told the New York Times that the paper “means ‘we are the voiceless, but we are also powerful.’”