China's mass protests are overwhelming its censorship systems
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 blank 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.
Security personnel in protective clothing detain a protestor in Zhengzhou in central China's Henan province.
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.