China’s infamous internet police can’t keep up with the massive volume of videos unmasking the unrest in the secretive nation — as fed-up residents protest the government’s draconian COVID lockdown rules.
The feared censorship regime can’t take down footage of the heated demonstrations fast enough — while crafty protestors are also using tricks to evade their systems, the New York Times reported Wednesday.
“This is a decisive breach of the big silence,” Xiao Qiang, a researcher on internet freedom at the University of California, Berkeley, told the publication.
Videos of demonstrators clashing with police, or holding up black sheets of paper in defiance, have been circulating on social media for days — an atypical and brave display of resistance in authoritarian China.
Footage posted to Twitter on Tuesday show dozens of riot police in Guangzhou moving in formation towards torn-down lockdown barriers as protestors threw objects at them.
Other videos showed police deploying tear gas in the city’s Haizhu district.
The Communist Party’s top law enforcement authority vowed in a statement Tuesday that China would crack down on “the infiltration and sabotage activities of hostile forces.”
The Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission also said it would not tolerate “illegal and criminal acts that disrupt social order.”
But the protest videos keep circulating.
According to Qiang, China’s reliance on automation to censor its citizens online has, in part, made it difficult to clamp down on the social media resistance — as incidents were filmed from multiple angles with multiple chances to go viral.
“Once the anger spills on to the street it becomes much harder to censor,” Qiang said.
One former Chinese censor told the New York Times that Beijing would need to hire many more minders — and develop more sophisticated surveillance algorithms — if it wanted to stem the torrent of videos being spread online.
Protestors have also discovered workarounds — adding filters, or making videos of videos playing on other devices — in a cunning and apparently successful bid to outwit state censors.
A growing number of protesters are also starting to employ virtual private networks — and similar software — that allow them to access services like Instagram and Twitter, which are banned from China’s internet.
Reports over the weekend said police in China were confiscating cell phones, looking for photos or videos from protests, and deleting them — along with any VPN software.
The days of defiance were sparked by a deadly fire last week in the far western city of Urumqi, in which rescue efforts were reportedly hampered by the country’s strict COVID lockdown restrictions.
The city had been under COVID lockdown for 100 days.
By Sunday, the protests had reached major cities like Nanjing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, as well as the capital, Beijing.
The protests, nominally about Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s so-called zero-COVID policy of intense lockdowns to stop the spread of the pandemic, have become a referendum on Xi’s grip on power.
The leader recently broke with China’s Communist Party tradition and appointed himself to a third term at the nation’s helm.
Though the government has yet to acknowledge the demands of the protesters, the cities of Guangzhou and Chongqing announced an easing of certain COVID quarantine rules on Wednesday.
The announcement comes after health authorities in Beijing announced a drive Monday to encourage elderly Chinese to receive the COVID 19 vaccine — which some have seen as a harbinger of changing lockdown policies.
Only two-thirds of Chinese over the age of 80 have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and less than half are boosted.
By contrast, 93% of Americans 65 and over are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
With Post wires