When earlier in the week the Sina Weibo account of the US consulate in Shanghai was blocked, theories varied. Was it a mistake by Sina? Was it a political provocation by the Chinese authorities? It was certainly not technical glitch, says internet watcher Jeremy Goldkorn in VOA.
Consulate officials say they do not know why the account has been removed and that they are working to find out how the service can be restored.
But Jeremy Goldkorn, the editor of Danwei.com – a website about Chinese media and Internet – told VOA the incident is “almost certainly” more than just a technical glitch.
“This is very common. Sina, sometimes at the request of governments, and sometimes on their own initiative, to avoid getting in trouble with the government, shuts down accounts and deletes tweets (posts) – they do all kinds of censorship. So almost certainly this is what happened.”
It would not be the first dispute between American embassy or consular officials and the government of China, which employs a massive team of web censors to remove material deemed objectionable.
Last month, a senior Chinese environmental official slammed the U.S. Embassy in Beijing’s Twitter account for regularly posting air quality readings that are much worse than the government’s official figures.
Goldkorn says Beijing is likely even more unhappy with posts that appear in the Chinese language on locally hosted services, such as Weibo. But he says he does not know of any instances of government censors completely shutting down a U.S. government-controlled account.
“They have deleted tweets from the U.S. government’s Weibo accounts in the past, so in that sense it’s not new. But I think this may be the first time that they have completely removed or disabled an account, on Weibo at least.”