War on the Selfies: Why China Blocked Instagram

by on September 30, 2014

Last Sunday, the popular social media app, Instagram, was blocked in China – a move, seen by many, as a way to refrain people from sharing photos from the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

The move came after police used tear gas on the protestors and videos, photos and protest selfies started to spread online.

Already, Facebook and Twitter have been blocked in China. Instagram, the photo sharing app, is one of the few networking apps that were still allowed. That all changed last Sunday. Reports say that people could no longer see new posts on their Instagram feed.

Censorship in China has already been very strict. Charlie Chian, spokeswoman for Instagram’s parent company, Facebook Inc. said they are looking into the situation. In an email from their company, they stated: “We are aware of reports that people are having difficulty accessing Instagram and looking into it.”

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No statement has been released yet from the Chinese government and this is no surprise since they have never offered any explanation for why widely popular social media apps are not available in their country.

Ever since the installment of Xi Jinping as president, the government’s grip on social media grew tighter. There is a newly formed cybersecurity committee that helps monitor and prevent rumors from spreading online.

News on websites about the protest in Hong Kong have been censored or blocked. They said the websites need to follow the “relevant legal regulations and policies.”

Word searches online for “Hong Kong Tear Gas” have also been censored. Sina Weibo, one of China’s largest social networking sites, also blocked searches for the Chinese translation of the same words. Some articles that were published online on the incident have also been taken down.

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Over the years, China continues to tighten their censorship, especially on the internet. Earlier this year in May, Google’s services began to be inoperable.

Currently, over more than 7,700 photos related to the Hong Kong protests have been shared with the tag #occupycentral. Photos on the tear gas incident show students wearing masks and carrying umbrellas as shield from the cloud of gas that surround them. Photos of yellow ribbons were also posted. Yellow ribbons is a symbol of the protests.

This is not the first time China censored the media. In the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, social media platforms were blocked.

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By Yemi Adebowale

Source: PC Word, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post

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