Is Google+ censored in China? Not so fast

Is Google+ censored in China? Not so fast

Whoa, Nellie. Some international press outlets appear to have mistakenly reported that Google+, Google’s new social networking site released yesterday, has already been blocked in China. But a handful of major blog websites in China have since debunked that story. According to their reports, it seems that Google+ is being not blocked, but "throttled." In other words, you can access it, but it’s painfully slow. The Chinese have used this strategy before, and to great effect, says tech website Penn Olson’s Steven Millward:

Web throttling is a tactic new to China’s Great Firewall, and has been seriously slowing pretty much all overseas internet speeds all year. Gmail particularly has been horribly throttled, to the point were it can take five or ten minutes or more to go from the login page to your inbox. It’s a very underhanded tactic by Net Nanny: being seen not to block the service, whilst actually rendering it nearly useless to its users.

Shanghaiist isn’t impressed with the research techniques behind the mistaken reports:

Washington Post, and others, are only citing GFW [Great Firewall, the nickname for China’s internet censorship firewall] check-up sites like Great Firewall of China and Ping. To give you an idea of how unreliable those tests are, we just tried Google+ again on both, and got an "OKAY" from Ping and a "fail" from Great Firewall.

Sadly, when it comes to censorship, Western news outlets have something of a track record with overzealous reporting. This spring, the lede of a New York Times piece purported to expose Chinese propaganda agents cutting off phone calls at the mention of the word "protest." Shanghai-based journalist (and FP contributor) Adam Minter tested the Times‘ claims and found them overblown, as did Shanghaiist’s Kenneth Tan. Later that day, Times researcher Jonathan Ansfield, who was involved with the piece, left a damning comment on Minter’s post:

for the record, the contributing reporter’s own tests comport with yours. regrettably his input on the story made little difference.

The next day, the Times published a correction saying that the recipients of the calls cited in the article, who were left anonymous in the article, were both Times reporters in the Beijing bureau, adding:

Because scrutiny of press communications could easily be higher than for those of the public at large, the calls could not be assumed to represent a broader trend; therefore, those examples should not have been given such prominence in the article.

A lesson learned, we hope.