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Why Is China Suddenly Blocking Instagram?

The Hong Kong connection…

Michael Cruickshank
Why Is China Suddenly Blocking Instagram?© 2017 Flickr - chet wong

China has a nasty habit of banning foreign social media networks. Usually networks, are slowed so much that they become basically unusable, or they are blocked outright by China’s Golden Shield program (commonly referred to as the “Great Firewall of China”). Already Facebook, Twitter, Google, Line and anonymous browser DuckDuckGo have all faced this kind of treatment.

This block was likely due to recent unrest in Hong Kong

Today another popular network joins the list of sites which have fallen afoul of the Chinese government. Users in China have woken up to find that popular image sharing service Instagram was blocked within mainland China. While previous blocks have be precipitated by civil unrest within China, this time the catalyst seems to be just across one of the country’s internal borders in Hong Kong.

There, activists have been holding an escalating series of protests against the Beijing government that nominally controls the city-state. Pro-Democracy protesters claim that a recent announcement by the central government that they should be able to approve candidates for the 2017 General Election means that Hong Kong will never have a free election. While protests in previous weeks have been generally small affairs, these have massively expanded within the last 48 hours, resulting in riot police ineffectively deploying tear gas to disperse the tens of thousands in the streets.

Before long, Chinese internet users began to share images of these events on Instagram within mainland China. Many users proclaimed their support for the protest movement by changing their profile picture to that of yellow ribbon on a black background. Seeing this, the unrest-paranoid Chinese government immediately blocked the image sharing site, which they previously considered not to be a risk.

While it is possible that this block is temporary, if past blocks are anything to go by, this is unlikely to be the case. Instead the Chinese government tries to force users onto indigenous Chinese-based social media networks which are much easier for it to control. It is important to note as well that these blocks are only in effect within mainland China, and not in Hong Kong, due to the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ law.

 

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