Clampdown rumoured as China "twitter" sites down

By Melanie Lee

SHANGHAI, July 14 (BestGrowthStock) – Chinese social networking
websites that provide Twitter-like services have suddenly
reverted to testing mode and access has been spotty amid
reports of a government clampdown.

Although Twitter has been banned for more than a year in
China, Chinese Internet companies have been quick to fill the
void, providing microblogging services that allow users to post
frequent updates and follow other posters.

On Wednesday, NetEase.com Inc’s (NTES.O: ) microblog
(http://t.163.com) was inaccessible. A notice said the site had
been down since 7 p.m. on Tuesday and was under maintenance.

Sohu.com Inc’s (SOHU.O: ) microblog (http://t.sohu.com) was
also shut down for more than a day earlier in the week and all
Chinese “twitters” now display the notice “in testing mode”.

Company sources told Reuters that the developments were the
result of tightened government controls over the new services.

“Nobody will publicly announce the reason, but it is as
obvious as a fly on a bald head,” one source said, declining to
be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The Shanghai-based Oriental Morning Post cited unnamed
“industry sources” as saying that the websites were under
pressure from Chinese censors.

News content on Chinese Internet websites is under intense
government censorship, and online news editors with major
Internet portals often receive dictats from the government on
what can and cannot be published. But the new microblogs of
Internet portals, with less government censorship, have proved
to be freer for carrying news and comments.

Nevertheless, in July 2009 Fanfou.com, a budding replica of
Twitter, was shut down by the government amid a major campaign
to tighten Internet controls.

Beijing has been trying to tighten controls on the
country’s booming Internet industry, the world’s largest by
users, since the second half of last year, introducing new
regulations concerning online gaming, online mapping and
e-commerce.

Sina Corp (SINA.O: ), China’s largest Internet portal,
launched a microblog in August last year. Yet, earlier this
week, the company put an “in testing mode” notice on the
website.

“We are constantly upgrading the site. Even though we
launched in August last year it is still in testing mode,” said
Sina spokesman Liu Qi.

Sina and NetEase both denied government intervention and
said the notices and sporadic site access were due to upgrading
of features.

“NetEase’s micro-blog is very popular and growing fast, so
we had to perform maintenance to upgrade features,” said
NetEase spokesman Liu Youcai.

Sohu could not be reached for comment.
(Editing by Chris Lewis and Alex Richardson)

Clampdown rumoured as China “twitter” sites down