China Internet opens up after earthquake

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Chinese officials are allowing greater internet freedom in the wake of the Sichuan earthquake which has left over 70,000 dead or missing..

Chat rooms, websites and mobile phones are all being used to spread information about the earthquake and the subsequent rescue operations.

Marc van der Chijs, co-founder of popular Chinese search engine, reported yesterday that entertainment sites have been shut down for three days to make room for earthquake news.

"All Chinese entertainment websites will be closed down during next three days," he said via Twitter. "Only earthquake related material allowed."

China has traditionally suppressed reports of natural disasters within its borders, particularly earthquakes which are seen as a sign that the country's leaders may be about to change.

But, with Chinese internet users now making up the majority of the world's online population, it seems that authorities are relaxing their grip on communications.

"I do not want to use the word 'transparent', but it is less censored, an almost free flow of discussion," said Xiao Qiang, a journalism professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and director of the China Internet Project, which monitors and translates Chinese websites.

"They understand better now that to react slowly or to cover up in the internet age is a bad idea."

However, some censorship is still going on. Seventeen people have been arrested, warned or forced to write apologies for online messages that "spread false information, made sensational statements and sapped public confidence", the state news agency has reported.

Scammers have also been active. Police warned that bogus messages asking for money to help victims are already being sent out.
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