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Chinese Voices Silenced (Again) as Tiananmen Media Blackout Begins

The Chinese government has blocked access to Twitter and a slew of other online platforms for expression in China on Tuesday. Users report that Twitter, Flickr,, Hotmail, Windows Live,, and other services are unavailable. YouTube has also been largely blocked since March. The Chinese government often restricts access to online services during politically sensitive periods. As this week marks the twentieth anniversary of the deadly crackdown on democracy activists in Tiananmen Square, “politically sensitive” would be an immense understatement in describing the tension in Beijing and permeating the rest of the mainland.

The Chinese government has been here before:   The 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations were organized with help of a “new” communications technology called a fax machine.   “Rogue” fax machines (outside the control of the Chinese government) scattered in universities across the country provided a key platform for organizing and free expression.   Similarly, text messaging, blogs, and other social media platforms have unleashed a torrent of political discourse in recent years — from the incendiary to the mundane — as 300 million Chinese have quickly embraced the Internet and other communications technologies. Twitter has become immensely popular as a way for sharing politically sensitive news, and text messaging has been used to organize protests around community concerns. The current social media blackout serves as a sharp reminder of how vital these platforms are for enabling unfettered speech and grassroots democratic reform movements.

Afraid of being held accountable by its own people, the Chinese government once again looks to shut down online discourse over the Tiananmen Square incident and deny an entire generation of Chinese access to a key piece of their country’s history. Promoting global Internet freedom must be a core priority in the U.S.’s foreign and domestic policy. The democratic revolution (and its iconic Tank Man) may not be televised—but it could be online.