Wikipedia has an article listing a slew of websites blocked in mainland China.
The latest entry: Wikipedia.
The community-edited online encyclopedia was barred in April, according to a new report from the censorship research group, the Open Observatory of Network Interference. This means Beijing’s ban of the Chinese-language edition has been extended to swallow Wikipedia’s entire platform.
The Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that hosts the Wikipedia site, confirmed that all language versions have been blocked in China. Other Wikimedia projects like Wikimedia Commons, which holds 53 million freely licensed media files, are still available.
“We have not received notice or any indication as to why this current block is occurring and why now,” said Samantha Lien, communications manager for the Wikimedia Foundation. “With the expansion of this block, millions of readers and volunteer editors, writers, academics, and researchers within China cannot access this resource or share their knowledge and achievements with the world.”
Launched in 2012, OONI “studies the Internet” by running experiments on various networks “to understand where and how information controls are being implemented around the world,” said Arturo Filastò, a project lead with the group. OONI relies on a mobile app used by tens of thousands of volunteers who document cases of Internet censorship or other kinds of online interference. All the findings are published in open data sets.
China’s censorship of Wikipedia has come in waves. For years, Beijing would target specific search results — such as for “Tiananmen Square massacre” — without blocking entire sites. Lien said Wikipedia had been blocked in China intermittently since 2004. Then China blocked Wikipedia’s Chinese-language edition in June 2015, while most other language editions stayed online. Filastò speculated that the government recognized there was a growing public interest in Wikipedia content that wasn’t just in Chinese.
Open Observatory also found that China’s broad censorship of Wikipedia is more sophisticated than its earlier screens. The new block uses two censorship techniques that make it harder for users to slip through.
The platform was English only when it launched in 2001, according to its own Wikipedia entry, but now features articles in more than 300 languages. Less than 15 percent of the site’s more than 40 million articles are in English.
Wikipedia doesn’t show any ads and is free for all users, but it accepts donations. (You may have noticed banners plastered on the site asking for money, but the site isn’t at risk of folding anytime soon.) The Wikimedia Foundation is supported by donors.
In 2013, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales told the Wall Street Journal that the site would never comply with the Chinese government’s request to censor information. Beijing also bans Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest and thousands of other domain names.
Lien said that Wikimedia responds to governments that block Wikipedia by considering various cultural, political or other factors. But that doesn’t infringe on the Foundation’s commitment to “transparency, openness, and a firm stance against censorship of any kind,” she said.
China’s unilateral ban follows a similar one in Turkey, which blocked Wikipedia in 2017 and has had intermittent bans on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and WhatsApp. Turkish authorities said the ban went into effect after Wikipedia would not remove content that accused Turkey of giving support to terrorist groups, according to The Verge. The multi-language ban is still in effect.
One year into the Turkish ban, Lien told The Verge that the foundation had been lobbying to get Wikipedia reinstated in Turkey, and that its appeal had been under review from Turkey’s Constitutional Court for nearly a year.
“We have asked Turkish courts to review the block, and have engaged in a series of discussions with Turkish authorities,” Lien said at the time.