The Chinese government has a notorious intolerance for dissenting voices online. To better understand the system from the inside, Harvard University and University of Southern California researchers created hundreds of fake posts and a fake social network to watch the censors in action.
Researchers Gary King and Jennifer Pan at Harvard and Margaret Roberts of USC published the results of their experiment in Science this week.
Their results indicated a surprising trend: Chinese censors were less restrictive than the researchers expected. In general, posts calling for action were the targets for takedown, while posts merely stating criticism tended to stay up.
The rationale, King and his colleagues explain, could be that the government is using public comments on social spaces as an indication of public opinion.
In the meanwhile, Chinese citizens have come up with inventive ways to dodge blanket censor tactics like word-blocking, including several colorful memes.