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China hopes to prevent protests by blocking search terms

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JEREMY HOBSON: The violence continues today in Libya. The protests continue today in Bahrain, and in Yemen. And there are calls for protests in China. A small movement there is asking people to show up at rallies in a dozen cities this Sunday for the second week in a row. And the government? Well it’s turning to the Internet for help.

Marketplace’s China Bureau Chief Rob Schmitz joins us now from Shanghai with more. Hi, Rob.


HOBSON: So I assume the government in Beijing would rather the Libyan situation not be the talk of the town.

SCHMITZ: Definitely not. The government is doing what it usually does when it feels threatened like this, and that’s blocking certain search terms related to the unrest in the Middle East. It does this by relying on companies that operate search engines to police their own sites, but it also is able to unilaterally shut down your server connection if you enter a search term that is particularly sensitive. And that’s what we’ve seen here with the term ‘jasmine revolution,’ which refers to the protests spreading throughout the Middle East.

HOBSON: All right Rob, well show us what you mean. Google the term ‘jasmine revolution.’

SCHMITZ: OK, so here I am. I’m typing ‘jasmine revolution’ in Chinese. And here’s what pops up on my screen: “The connection is reset — the site is temporarily unavailable.” It’s an error message, and this is usually what pops up whenever you enter a search term that China’s government doesn’t want you to know more about. So the dangerous term this week happens to be ‘jasmine revolution.’ Even the single word ‘jasmine’ has been blocked on Google. It’s kind of funny, because Jasmine is the name of a popular folk song in China. In fact, Chinese president Hu Jintao is a big fan of this song and there’s a video of him singing this song on many Chinese sites, so it turns out that even President Hu is being blocked in this latest campaign from his central propaganda department.

HOBSON: Oh, the negative side effects of blocking search terms. That’s Marketplace China Bureau Chief Rob Schmitz, joining us from Shanghai. Thanks, Rob.

SCHMITZ: Thanks, Jeremy.

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