Twitter's moment of Chinese truth

A new medium hits the big time: No tweeting about Tiananmen, declare the commissars

Published June 2, 2009 5:25PM (EDT)

How do we know when a new communications medium truly comes of age?

When China blocks it.

With the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen only two days away, China's censors are tightening the screws on a wide variety of information sources. Reuters reports that Flickr and Hotmail have also been blocked and foreign television news transmissions in hotels have been replaced by public service announcements against smoking.

But losing Twitter has gotta hurt. Just last week, Michael Anti, a former New York Times research and well-known blogger, noted in an interview with Danwei that "Chinese Twitterland is funnier than the English one, for a Chinese tweet can have three times the volume of an English tweet, thanks to the high information intensity of the Chinese language."

But "the joy of Chinese Twitterland is fragile," he warned prophetically.

Twitter is a new thing in China. The censors need time to figure out what it is. So enjoy the last happy days of twittering before the fate of YouTube descends on it one day.

But who knows? Maybe Twitter censorship will be the straw that finally breaks the Chinese Communist Party's back. Maybe China's hundreds of millions of Internet users will finally declare that enough is enough, and will take to the streets en masse on Thursday, in honor of their fallen brethren 20 years ago, demanding, once and for all, the freedom to tweet.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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