Sina Weibo, China's Twitter-like microblogging platform, has seen tremendous growth since launching in 2010, with the site's 300 million users combining to post 70,000 messages per minute. This growth has forced the Chinese government to ramp up its censorship tactics, though its precise methods have thus far remained a mystery. Researchers in the US, however, have now attempted to pull back the curtain on the country's operations, as part of a new study released this week.
Without any firm details on China's censorship practices, Rice University's Dan Wallach and his team of researchers instead attempted to reverse-engineer the government's techniques by tracking Weibo posts as they appeared in real-time. After following activity from 3,500 users over a 15-day period, they found that about 13 percent of all posts had been deleted. Some, of course, had been deleted by users themselves, but Wallach's real interest lay in those erased by third parties — identifiable by a unique "permission denied" message that would appear after deletion. It's these "system deletions," according to the authors, that provide the most accurate idea of how China's censorship machine actually operates.