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wow, the global times is really bold. china daily will never do this. although i don't visit douban, i pay my sympathy to the posters there.|
He couldn't take it anymore.
When Hong Kong writer and poet Liao Weitang found his online photo album had been deleted by douban.co
m, he quit, leaving behind the 3,000 friends he had made over two years.
"I had a great time here," he wrote in his leaving statement to users of the Chinese mainland social networking service, "despite my account twice being suspended and having 100 posts deleted.
"But just lately this website has gone insane. It's like half of the 5,000 most-commonly-used words are banned."
The final straw for Liao was the deletion of The Beautiful and Strong People, an album featuring Hong Kong youths and artists involved in a protest against the HK$66.7-billion Hong Kong to Shenzhen and Guangzhou high-speed rail link. Photos of kneeling, barefoot youths were apparently deemed too political.
"I shot beautiful young faces, nothing radical or provocative," Liao said. "But they just couldn't let it go."
"I stuck it out for two years with Douban, posting poems and comments, trying to bring a little truth and alternative values to my friends behind the Great Firewall.
"But I've got to have a bottom line somewhere. The Web master repeatedly tested my principles. So finally I decided to leave this website that is becoming renowned for self-castration."
Douban used to be more flexible with him back in the old days, Liao said. For example instead of deleting, website managers might close off content by making it "private" not public. Or entries were not erased immediately, perhaps after a day or two, he recalled.
"That way, hundreds and thousands would see them," he said.
As one of only a few Kong Hong writers willing to operate in this compromised Internet environment, Liao said he had savored the opportunity to communicate with isolated mainland friends.
"I posted on Douban what the public needs to know, saving more personal stuff for my blog."
Initiated in 2005, Douban has 33 million registered users: mostly students and intellectuals who enjoy the social networking service's simple design and user-generated content like books, movies and albums. More recently, Douban's tightening censorship has upset some veteran members.
It got to the point that Peking University student Fang Kecheng wrote an open letter of complaint to Douban for suspending his account, dubbing the website a "dictator".
According to Fang, users and Web masters had been forced into playing hide-and-seek with Big River, Big Sea – Untold Stories of 1949, a banned book by Taiwan writer Lung Yingtai.
As the book's International Standard Book Number (ISBN) was forbidden on the mainland, users kept the title but altered the ISBN in order to share their comments and ratings.
Douban's Web masters spotted the incorrect ISBN, erased the title and re-inserted the original, correct title. Seeing this, Fang changed the title back again, which led to his account being closed.
"I can't believe contributing entry content can be a crime," Fang said. "Any user can submit information they think is right on a website that relies on user-generated content."
Fang wanted to find out whether the book's sensitivity had contributed to his punishment and so he got his friend to change the title back again. His friend's account was also closed.
It wasn't the censorship per se that enraged Fang and other Web users, it was Douban breaching its own published code of conduct.
"Douban's ban is unreasonable and random," Fang wrote. "It's authoritarian because you can be banned for three days, seven days or forever with no justification and all your diaries, albums, collections and messages are gone."
Douban's rules state users must receive three warnings before such a final, permanent closure: After a first warning, the account is suspended three days. The second warning leads to a week's ban. Only after a third warning is the account supposed to be closed down permanently.
Fang's open letter led to the lifting of a closure on his account.
Self-censorship is the rule of survival that prevents popular websites from being shut down, Zoe Wang, a veteran website developer told the Global Times.
"I can understand an author being outraged when his post gets deleted, but it's even harder to operate a website as I have to suffer the humiliation of supervisory organs and handle all the criticisms coming from users," she said.
"How can you hope to pay your staff or maintain your users' statistics if the website is shut down all because of one sensitive post?"
"You can never relax," said the small website operator.
"You're always keeping your phone switched on and waiting for that emergency call from the authorities requiring deletion of a post."
What's worse, she said, was the complete absence of clear-cut rules for deciding whether or not to delete an online post.
"The criterion of sensitivity depends on many aspects such as the political environment, the website's backgro
und, size and location, as well as the different understandings of Web masters."
Douban was extraordinarily cautious about its content as it had no background or ties to government, according to a source close to an editor at the site.
"Once you're shut down, nobody can save you," the source said.
No editor from Douban would go on the record when the Global Times contacted them.
"Douban recalls clearly the fate of Fanfou, Yeeyan and Blogbus," Fang said.
They were three of the most well-known mainland websites closed down last year, according to the Southern Metropolis Weekly. The latter two were recovered in January.
Fanfou founder Wang Xing was pondering how much to up censorship during the July 5 Xinjiang riot last year when he got his answer.
The Twitter-style microblogging service for 100,000 registered users was closed down almost immediately for "violating related rules", according to the China Business News Weekly.
Wang hasn't given up hope of bringing Fanfou back some day. Seven months on, Wang still refused to comment.
A site that published collaborative user-submitted translations of English and Chinese articles, Yeeyan was shut down in November last year for violating the regulation on "running a news information service".