Protesters use Web 2.0 to show dark side to Beijing Olympics

Despite intense government effort to paint rosy picture, bloggers and others peel back the facade.

With the eyes of the world turned to Beijing, human rights protesters and even bloggers detained by the Chinese government regime have been using various Web 2.0 tools to evade the country's notorious censors and shed some shed light on the darker side of the Games.

Much of the Internet has been buzzing with information touting the flamboyant opening ceremonies and updating the status of competition in popular sports like gymnastics and swimming. But a deeper look online shows that Chinese bloggers and some foreigners who traveled to Beijing to protest human right violations are using various Web 2.0 methods to get their message out.

For example, citizen reporter and Chinese blogger Zhou "Zuola" Shuguang had many on the U.S.-based microblogging site Twitter riveted to his Tweets last week detailing his detainment by the Chinese government - while he was being detained.

Online advocacy group Global Voices translated his Twitter updates during the incident.

According to the translation, he wrote: "Head of security at Meitanba Mining Group Director Liu w/ 3 others taking me now back to Meitanba Village, scared my parents." About 10 minutes later he added, "I've been made to get into their car. I want my parents to confirm what has happened today, what time and place and w/ who, the license plate number of the car I was taken away in. I'm fine, in their car, it feels a bit like I'm being intercepted."

He was released in his hometown later the same day, according to his subsequent Tweets.

U.S.-based protestor Eddie Romaro has been posting Twitter updates from within Beijing since arriving before the Olympics opening ceremony. Romaro also has been updating his MySpace profile and posting videos YouTube about his cause.

He painted protest messages on the walls of a hotel room earlier in his stay and has since been hiding from Chinese police, he said on his MySpace page. He says he plans to turn himself over to Chinese authorities for arrest on Aug. 24, the day of the closing ceremonies.

Anne Donohue, a professor of journalism at Boston University currently working at the People's University in Beijing, said that despite the heavy use of Twitter and live streaming site Qik by protestors, the total number of online protestors has so far been "tiny," far less than what was expected.

"The Chinese set up three parks for protests but the permitting process was so cumbersome, no permits were issued that I am aware of," she noted in an e-mail. "It has been very quiet with the occasional Tibetan banner/flag. I have a VPN that allows me to see anything I want, but I have not heard of any new, more aggressive censorship. It's just the same old 'whack-a-mole' approach they've consistently employed."

She did note that Chinese authorities acted quickly when photos of a young girl deemed too unattractive to be shown singing during the opening ceremonies appeared online. The photos were immediately deleted, she said.

While the Chinese government worked hard to ensure that the image they portray from their worldwide stage would not be marred by anything negative, some Chinese blogs and forums are showing that the citizen sentiment often differs from the official rosy facade.

Hong Kong blogger Roland Soong, for example, translated several comments from Chinese cyberspace on his EastSouthWestNorth blog.

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Heather Havenstein

Computerworld (US)

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