Information Controls Fellow
The fellow created a catalogue of user-created censorship circumvention techniques and identified methods that jointly maximize information accessibility and circumvention effectiveness
From embedding text in images to rearranging word order of online posts, netizens in China continue to come up with creative ways to post content deemed sensitive by the government while evading censorship. This fellowship investigates the difficulty of replicating user-generated censorship circumvention techniques in China, their effectiveness in evading censorship, and their effect on information transmission. Overall, based on interviews with Chinese internet users and surveys used in the research, there are substantial variations in the adoption difficulty, censorship circumvention effectiveness, and information transmission for existing circumvention methods. The study suggests a plausible trade-off between circumvention effectiveness and information transmission. Additionally, using specialized tools or language to alter text can increase the adoption difficulty for users. This study also finds that literacy with censorship circumvention methods tends to correlate with younger age groups, exposure to foreign social media, and higher education levels.
The study reviewed several options to improve adoption and circumvention effectiveness of information transmission. Overall, the Homophone Substitution has the best combination of adoption difficulty, circumvention effectiveness, and information transmission among the circumvention methods considered in the study. Homophone substitution works by converting a censored word into its homophone, which are words that have the same pronunciation but different meanings, origins, or spelling (for example in English, new and knew). In the Chinese context, this includes words with a similar phoneme, which are distinct units of sound in the language that distinguish one word for another. This censorship circumvention method allows for users to decipher content that would have otherwise been censored, and can be easily replicated by users. However, interviews with engineers reveal a note of caution for the method. In addition, there are other methods that can successfully be used in conjunction with the homophone substitution.
You can read the full research report here