Beijing’s censorship apparatus is so efficient that sensitive content is typically taken of social media within minutes, however netizens were still watching and uploading the livestream of the Christchurch shooting on Chinese social media almost 48 hours after the incident.
- The footage was eventually censored from Chinese social media on Monday
- Chinese state media also published two stories highlighting safety flaws in the West
- Terror attacks overseas boost China’s ability to reinforce social stability
A search for the hashtag #NewZealandshootings on Weibo on Sunday afternoon returned several videos of the raw footage apparently showing a man moving through the interior of a mosque and shooting at his victims indiscriminately.
Separately on another popular social media platform WeChat, the ABC saw users uploading and sharing the raw footage in private chat groups formed by international students and Chinese diaspora on Sunday evening.
The video was also widely shared on one of China’s largest online forums, Baidu Tieba, where users drew similarities between the video and the popular first-person shooter video game Half-Life.
While the video was eventually censored on the platforms, the action was taken much later than their western counterparts such as Facebook, which said it removed 1.5 million videos of the attack globally in the first 24 hours after the incident.
The prolonged delay of the censorship comes amid strained tensions between China and New Zealand, which was expected to release a major report into foreign interference last week just as the attack occurred.
It also comes as China yesterday coincidentally released a white paper on anti-terrorism and human rights protection in China’s far-western region of Xinjiang, where up to 1 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other minorities have allegedly been detained since 2017.
The report said the Xinjiang Government had cracked down on 1,588 terrorist groups, captured 12,995 terrorists and seized 2,052 explosive devices since 2014.
State media tabloid the Global Times also published a piece over the weekend highlighting that the terrorist attack took place “not only in New Zealand, but in the West” and therefore exposed flaws in the Western countries.
A second piece in the paper claimed Chinese tourists feared travelling to New Zealand, which state media had previously announced ahead of the foreign interference report despite analysts saying it was untrue.
Beijing is known to use its massive tourist industry as a weapon to punish countries it has political disagreements with.
‘This is definitely intentional’
US-based author and independent political commentator Pokong Chen was among those who witnessed the “unusual delay” in the censorship of livestream footage on the Chinese social platforms.
He said the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had always been good at guiding public opinion on social media and the delay might be partially related to the recent tension between New Zealand and China.
The Chinese media also “exaggerated the negative aspects” of the incident by publishing raw videos and images of the attack, he added, which was unusual because state-owned media reportedly had systems to censor violent and sensitive content.
“This is definitely intentional because in China the Internet and the media are both controlled by the CCP; the media and the party are one family,” he told the ABC.
Graeme Smith, a research fellow at the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific, said one of the broad purposes of Chinese official media was to reinforce the impression that things were better at home than abroad.
“Showing images of chaos overseas, even graphically violent ones, serves this purpose,” he explained.
The Global Times on Sunday published an editorial titled ‘Mass shooting exposes Western flaws’, which casts doubt on any “significant adjustments” being made on gun laws in the West after the attacks as well as the ability to “duly reflect on the issue”.
“Immigrants, especially Muslims, cannot integrate into Western society,” it said.
“How to solve this problem? The Western political system discourages overall planning and long-term solutions.
“Poor political and social governance is common.”
Haiqing Yu, an associate professor in the school of media and communication at RMIT University, agreed that extremism in the West could be used to demonstrate the success of China’s policies.
“The mass shooting and extremism in the West — this time it just happens to be in New Zealand — can be a mirror to reflect on both the failure of the West in its policies towards immigration and Islamic (and anti-Islamic) extremism and the success of China in its heavy-handed approach to security and social control,” she told the ABC.
And the state media’s efforts to have paid off, with netizens taking to social media to praise their country.
“There is no other place safer than China,” one WeChat user, posting as Jiuban, commented on an article about the attack.
“This is the first time I’ve seen bad news about New Zealand. I thought New Zealand was a compelling and quiet dreamland,” wrote another user with the nickname Shiguanglueying.
Experts say the delayed censorship of the shooting also demonstrated China’s double standards regarding censorship.
In comparison to the days it took to take down the videos of the shooting, most Chinese social media platforms have a keyword filter that automatically censors sensitive information — on topics such as the Tiananmen Square massacre or the Xinjiang re-education camps — before it is published.
Dr Yu said it was related to the Chinese custom of not wanting to “wash their dirty linen in public” — a Chinese saying used to describe the reluctancy to display the negative aspects of their homeland to other countries.
By hiding negative stories about China while promoting coverage on foreign terrorists incidents, Mr Chen said the CCP also reinforced the “legitimacy of its one-party dictatorship”.
Titus Chen, associate professor at the National Sun Yat-Sen University’s Institute of Political Science, agreed that the Chinese censors did not block or remove the videos because they did not damage China’s national image nor imperil the authority of central leadership.
Sadly, he said the incident was perceived as “an excellent opportunity for the Chinese propaganda system to spin it to the CCP’s advantage.
He said this was done by reminding Chinese netizens how much safer China was in comparison to even a peaceful country like New Zealand, “and they should appreciate the Chinese political system that delivers peace and prosperity instead of chaos and bloodshed”.
“These videos and news stories framed the New Zealand mass shootings as a major failure of public security (ineffective gun control, and porous anti-terror measures),” he said.
“[It] would presumably enhance social appreciation of the Chinese Government’s performance in maintaining social stability.”
Dr Chen added the events in New Zealand also helped to justify the Government’s preventive yet repressive measures on Uyghurs in Xinjiang “for the sake of social stability and anti-extremism”.
The ABC approached Sina Weibo and Tencent for comment but the companies did not reply by publication time.
By Christina Zhou and Bang Xiao