By Cara Anna
The Associated Press
BEIJING (AP) — China’s Twitter-like microblogs are facing new threats of censorship.
The country’s top microblogs either are down for maintenance or now display a “beta” tag to indicate they are in a testing phase, though they have been operating for months.
Users worry that the explanations are cover-ups for further restraints on speech in China, where Twitter itself is blocked. They have deluged Chinese cyberspace and the microblog operators with questions and theories about the changes.
“So the big four microblogs changed their logos to a beta version to be ’under maintenance’?” Long Weilian, a China-based tech blogger who uses the name William Long, tweeted Wednesday. He added sarcastically, “Such a long time to figure that one out.”
Chinese officials often fear the possibility of public opinion spiraling out of control as social networking — and social protests — boom in the world’s largest Internet population. The government unplugged Twitter and Facebook last year but has allowed domestic versions to fill the void while keeping them under scrutiny.
Authorities will treat the microblogs with more severe supervision because authorities are still discussing how to manage them, Cheng Tianyu, an Internet expert with the Dadu consulting firm, told the Dongfang Daily newspaper in a report Wednesday.
On Thursday, the Netease.com Inc. microblog was down for maintenance, while the Sina Corp., Sohu Inc. and Tencent microblogs displayed a “beta” tag. Over the weekend, Sohu’s microblogging service was down completely. Otherwise, the sites still were allowing search and other functions Thursday.
Some company officials hurried to reassure the public.
Sina president Chen Tong responded on the site’s microblog Wednesday night to users’ speculation that the site could be shut down.
“Of course not,” he said. “I’ve said that sentence more than any other one today.”
China maintains the world’s most extensive monitoring and filtering system of the Internet. As part of that, Internet companies are required to censor online content to expunge lewd remarks or pointed political comment. Google’s refusal to continue censoring search results was one of the reasons it moved its Chinese search engine offshore earlier this year.
Efforts to reach Chinese officials about the issue were not immediately successful. The telephone at the news office of China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology rang unanswered.