In December 2010, Fang (who has said he has 6 VPNs on his computer) opened a microblog account on Sina Weibo. Within three hours he had attracted so many hate comments -- unlike Twitter, Sina Weibo includes a commenting feature -- that his posts, and the comments, were taken down. To add insult to injury, in May 2011, students pelted Fang with shoes and eggs when he gave a talk at Wuhan University in central China.
After both incidents, Fang's name was blocked on Sina Weibo.
2. It's the government that censors.
This is true -- to a point. The government maintains the Great Firewall and hires Internet police as well as wumaodang, or "50-cent party members" -- people paid to influence Internet discussion by writing social media posts extolling the government's position on issues. They're known as "50-cent" because they're selling out for cheap; the Chinese equivalent of a two-dollar whore. There are an estimated 250,000-300,000 wumaodang, who sometimes work with China's 30,000-50,000 Internet police.
But beyond this, the government has roped private companies into carrying out most of their own censoring. Companies must sign a "Public Pledge on Self-Discipline for China Internet Industry" in order to get a Chinese Internet Content Provider license, and the government holds all Internet companies operating within China, both foreign and domestic, liable for everything that appears on their sites. This includes comments on social media, and even on online chat and instant messaging. Companies deemed not in compliance can have their business license revoked and be summarily shut down.
As a result, every large Internet company employs its own censors. Charles Chao, the CEO of Sina reluctantly told Forbes in March 2011 that the company employs at least 100 "monitors," though Internet expert and activist Rebecca MacKinnon estimates the number is closer to 1,000.
The guidelines for these censors are vague, which Jason Q. Ng, a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh who studies the Chinese Internet and tracks banned terms at his blog Blocked on Weibo, says is intentional. "Most of the time people at the companies are trying to suss out what's sensitive this week, and let's do this right now because otherwise the government will come back next week and say, ‘Why didn't you do this?' and punish them. This creates a culture, perhaps not of fear, but where corporations realize they need to be on their toes to stay ahead of where the government puts down the hammer next." In other words: to make sure they stay within the unstated bounds, overly cautious companies wind up censoring more than necessary.
3. No one is allowed to criticize the government.
False. The government rarely sets out explicit censorship guidelines, making it difficult to determine what gets censored and what doesn't. But, a Harvard University working paper on social media censorship, the most recent version of which was released in October, found that there is plenty of criticism of the government online.
The team downloaded nearly 3.7 million posts (mainly from BBS and blog platforms, not microblogs) from 1,400 social media services over six months in 2011 (a period that included the arrest of Ai Weiwei, protests in Inner Mongolia and Zengcheng, and deadly bombings in Fuzhou).