Herdict data collected from China just prior to the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests demonstrated significant and widespread increases in filtering. June 4th marked the 24th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests, a day many Chinese activists sarcastically call “Internet Maintenance Day,” given history of government attempts to hide only information about the protests. According to Herdict data collected with Greatfire.org, more than four hundred sites which were reported accessible during April 3 – May 3 were subsequently blocked during the May 4 – June 4 period. At least four of these sites that switched from accessible to inaccessible just before the anniversary were gateways to virtual private networks, which are an important tool for circumvention.
Among the other blocked sites were three U.S.-based advocacy groups, including Human Rights Watch, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as well as Change.org. Also blocked during the period leading up to the anniversary were sites important to programmers, including the open source development and distribution community SourceFourge and Python.org.tw, a site for Taiwanese Python programming language enthusiasts. It isn’t immediately clear why these programming sites were blocked, but it may represent an effort to prevent discussion and development around circumvention tools.
Several country-specific Google sites (google.co.in, google.com.au, google.de) went from accessible to inaccessible in the period leading up to the anniversary. However, Google’s transparency report did not reflect those disruptions.
The majority of this data comes from Greatfire.org, an organization which monitors blocked websites in China. Greatfire and Herdict participate in a data exchange in which user reports submitted to Herdict on blocked sites in China are fed into Greatfire.org‘s database. Conversely, Greatfire shares their data with Herdict.
In the days and weeks after the anniversary, the four-hundred sites that were censored just prior to the anniversary may come back online, or they may join the long list of sites that are rarely accessible within China. Data exploration tools and additional information on the Herdict dataset may be found on the Herdict site.