Zéro Covid : jeux de mots, les Pink Floyd... comment les Chinois déjouent la censure du web

Zéro Covid : jeux de mots, les Pink Floyd… comment les Chinois déjouent la censure du web

Extracts from the national anthem, allusions to subversive songs: the Chinese are showing inventiveness to thwart online censorship and express their dissatisfaction with anti-Covid restrictions. China closely monitors the internet. Censors delete content that portrays state policy in a bad light or is likely to create unrest. But censorship must now be in full swing to defend the untouchable national strategy of “zero Covid”, under which most of Shanghai’s 25 million inhabitants have been confined since the beginning of April.

Exasperated by the problems with the supply of fresh produce, access to non-Covid medical care and the sending of people who tested positive to quarantine centres, many are venting their anger on the internet. For Charlie Smith, co-founder of the GreatFire.org site which tracks Chinese censorship, the Shanghai lockdown has become “so big a topic that it can’t be completely censored”.

Especially since Internet users compete in inventiveness to thwart it. A photo or video is deleted? Slightly cropping the edges or inverting it like a mirror is often enough to thwart the automated filtering software of censors that works with artificial intelligence. A comment is censored? Internet users use allusions or puns. In Shanghai, instead of writing a harsh criticism, some have shared a hashtag that takes up the first words of the national anthem: “Stand up! We don’t want to be slaves anymore”… It was eventually censored, but only after the censors caught on to the maneuver.

“Do You Hear the People Sing?” »

Another tactic: anti-containment Internet users mobilized on the film and book review site Douban.com, in order, thanks to their online votes, to place the dystopian novel “1984″ at the top of the rankings. Objective achieved… before the censors intervene again. Overwhelmed, the latter however failed to prevent the viral dissemination last month of a video entitled “Voice of April”, which compiled in six minutes stories of Shanghainese in distress in the face of confinement.

By modifying this six-minute video very slightly, Internet users managed to thwart the filtering software, which could initially only identify – and therefore censor – the original version. The fight lasted several hours before the censors eradicated all versions in circulation. But millions of people had had time to see the video.

Outraged by the censorship, many Internet users then shared clips of two protest songs on the WeChat social network: “Do You Hear the People Sing? (from the musical “Les Miserables”) and “Another Brick In The Wall” (from the band Pink Floyd). The first is a call to rebellion. The second castigates in particular “thought control”.

No easing in sight

Shanghainese are now “ready to pay the price” for spreading critical opinions on the Internet, Lüqiu Luwei, a former journalist who teaches at Hong Kong Baptist University, told AFP. “The difficulties, discontent and anger” linked to confinement “far exceed the fear of being punished”, she believes.

A 46-year-old Chinese, Gao Ming, told AFP that the police called him last month to ask him to delete anti-containment messages posted on Twitter and Facebook – all platforms that are inaccessible from China. He refused because he says he is “anti-censorship” and “totally against current policy”, the confinement of Shanghai having according to him caused unnecessary deaths, due to the very disrupted access to non-Covid medical care.

VIDEO. “We are afraid of being sent to centers”: French people tell of the incredible confinement of Shanghai

The public media insist almost exclusively on the positive aspects, while ignoring the personal difficulties of the inhabitants. But the Communist Party reiterated its “unshakable” support for zero Covid on Thursday and called for “resolutely fighting against all words and deeds” that call it into question. A relaxation is all the less likely since the Chinese president himself defends this health policy, notes Yaqiu Wang, China manager at Human Rights Watch, an American organization for the defense of human rights. “It is more difficult for the government to back down when it comes to an ideological issue personally linked to Xi Jinping. »

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