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Blockchain Used to Fight Censorship in Shanghai

Imagine living in a country, where you would be sent to a centralized quarantine facility if a single person in your apartment block tested positive for Corona. Where not everyone had easy access to basic food or medical supplies, and where all lockdown critiques got censored and deleted by the government. 

This is the case in China where critical posts on mainstream social media sites are being systematically deleted. The aim is to prevent political mobilization or critical posts from going viral, explains Roger Creemers an expert on China’s digital technology at Leiden University in the Financial Times article. 

Professor Tong Zhiwei from Shanghai’s East China University of Political Science and Law, quoted in the same article, warns that the lockdown of Shanghai could lead to a legal disaster. 

“Pandemic protection needs to be balanced with ensuring people’s rights and freedoms” 

Tong Zhiwei, Financial Times.

But how does one battle injustice if the critique is being systematically deleted?

Chinese citizens have found creative ways of avoiding algorithmic screening, such as flipping articles upside down in WeChat groups. Another solution is to make non-fungible tokens (NFTs) of critical posts or to store the critical articles directly on a blockchain.

Once the NFT or critical post is stored on a blockchain, it cannot be changed or deleted and is protected from governmental censoring. 

This happened with the “Voice of April”, a six-minute protest video that documents how the people of Shanghai suffer during the lockdown. The video can be seen on YouTube with English subtitles here.

The protest video was removed from Weibo and WeChat, however, snapshots of the video got uploaded to a blockchain before the censorship had deleted it.

An anonymous source explains to the Financial Times: “People have been posting critical articles on the blockchain, so the government cannot delete them. It’s happening more now because blockchain technology is getting better”

Tech-sassy people in China can therefore still access critical posts and videos, but censoring is limiting the information to a small number of citizens. 

Furthermore, even though central authorities cannot delete information stored on a blockchain they can still block access to it, says Professor Barney Tan from UNSW Sydney to Financial Times: “The information control system is never going to work perfectly. But in China, it works well enough to limit information to a small number of computer nerds … From the perspective of regime integrity and stability, the censors have reached their goal”

Blockchain technology is one of many ways citizens can avoid being censored, as is seen in Shanghai.

As blockchain solutions and -applications become more mainstream and easy to access, one could hope they would facilitate censored citizens and communities in getting heard and acknowledged.

Get the article here

Signe Agerskov is researching blockchain ethics at the European Blockchain Center and is a member of the EU Expert Group on Blockchain Ethics (EGBE).