The Firefox add-on China Channel offers internet user outside China to surf the web as if they were in China. Take an unforgetable virtual trip to China and experience the technical expertise of the Chinese Ministry of Information Industry (supported by western companies). It's open source, free and easy.
The China Channel Firefox Add-On provides a way for Firefox users to surf the internet as though they were located behind the Chinese Great Fire Wall. This enables you to learn for yourself which websites and search results the Chinese government does and does not choose to censor. The way it works is by routing all of your browser activity through a proxy based in the People's Republic of China with the result that it is censored in exactly the same way as if you were connecting to the internet from within China.
Once you have installed the toolbar it is easy to turn the experience on and off at the click of a mouse. There are three ways of activating the plugin: a toolbar, a navigation bar button, and a status bar button. The toolbar offers a dropdown menu that allows you to toggle between Chinese browsing and ordinary browsing. Upon choosing “China Channel” and clicking the big, red “Go” button you will be taken to a website that shows you your new effective I.P address and location of browsing.
An added benefit of this aspect is that it allows you to evade the browsing ban frequently placed upon Chinese netizens. Simply put, when you have China Channel activated and browse to a website that is banned you will often be dealt a 15-minute internet freeze which prevents you from accessing other websites altogether. If you don't want to wait it out for the full, authentic experience you can simply switch the toolbar to "None" and then back to "China Channel" again. This will reconnect you to a different proxy located behind the firewall in China enabling you to continue browsing like nothing happened.
Other effects of using the plug-in will include censored search results and websites which inexplicably refuse to load. These will include many websites related to outside politics, human rights groups campaigning on Chinese issues and religious websites. Other people have reported being kicked off web-based chat clients for mentioning sensitive issues. If you would like to test a rumour you have heard about Chinese internet censorship this is the only foolproof way of doing so without actually going to China. If you are a journalist making an assertion about what is and is not blocked in China this provides you with the most convenient way of verifying the facts.
The plug-in was developed by Aram Bartholl, Evan Roth, and Tobias Leingruber,a team of artists and hackers,with consulting by LM4K and Jamie Wilkinson. It is based on a previously developed add-on by Jeremy Gillick known as the Switch Proxy add-on which enables people to conveniently switch to browsing through proxy servers when using Firefox.
There are a number of countries who choose to censor the internet, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Vietnam, Tunisia and the biggest of them all, China. The things that are blocked or censored include roughly 18,000 websites (including 12 of the 100 most popular), certain search engine results pages, selected discussion forums, and social media websites. The most popular social media website in China, Sina Weibo, is policed by 700 professional censors and western sites such as Facebook and Twitter have occasionally been disrupted when they have hosted large amounts of discussion on sensitive issues.
The issues regarded as sensitive by the People's Republic of China include religious material, pornography, violence, gambling and political issues that may lead people to contemplate political change. Contrary to common opinion, significant government criticism is often allowed on social media websites but messages in which large scale disruption is threatened are likely to be blocked. This will often include rumours that the government regards as dangerous such as food scares and others.
Various methods are used in order to maintain internet censorship and although firewalls are amongst them these methods go beyond merely using a firewall and the term The Great Fire Wall of China is therefore misleading. In order to block whole websites I.P address blocking is used alongside DNS redirection which means that when you type in the web address of a blocked website the domain name directs you to a different host than the one the owner uses. URL filtering scans the URL's that you enter for sensitive keywords and blocks them as you enter them.
When on social media platforms censorship generally takes the form of posts being deleted without warning. This happens far more commonly on Sina Weibo where professional censors ensure that discussion does not cross well-known bounds of acceptability. On search engines it used to be the case that results were eliminated and a message explaining the reason for this displayed. In recent years, however, the policy has been simply to eliminate the undesirable results (usually all or most of them) for certain keywords without leaving a notice to explain.
Self-censorship is also popular amongst internet content providers who often employ workers known as “Big Mama's” to voluntarily remove posts that may risk offending the official government censors. Since 2002 the Chinese Internet industry organisation, the Internet Society of China, created the Public Pledge on Self-Discipline for the Chinese Internet Industry and encouraged internet-based companies to sign it. The pledge involves reaffirming and formalising a commitment to preventing people from tansmitting information that the state deems objectionable.
The government of the People's Republic of China is continually improving the methods it uses to censor information it deems inappropriate. One of the more recent projects has involved a form of content filtration that will not show up using the China Channel plug-in, namely the introduction of Green Dam Youth Escort software to many of the computers sold within the PRC. In 2009 it was made mandatory that this be pre-installed on all computers to be sold within Chinese borders although this law has since been rescinded.
The number of people employed to censor the internet in the People's Republic has been estimated at 30,000 in total although it is impossible to know the exact number for sure. What is clear is that the government's desire to censor content shows no sign of abating and there is every likelihood that their censorship efforts will become more effective in coming years.