China agrees to drop censorship of social networks for Olympic athletes

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China is reportedly set to relent on its long-running censorship of western platforms such as Facebook and Instagram and search engines including Google as part of “contractual obligations” to athletes at the Beijing Olympics.

Mainland China currently denies access to popular social networks and messengers such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Whatsapp and Telegram, while Google is also classified as a prohibited site.

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The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has now confirmed to TASS that the Chinese government is set to drop the censorship for stars taking part in the Games in February, which are the subject of a diplomatic boycott by the US.

The IOC said in a statement that the internet will be open exclusively for accredited athletes at Olympic venues and hotels, while SIM cards will also be provided by organizers on a special tariff.

That could be particularly important to unvaccinated athletes who are quarantining.

Participants who are vaccinated may also find they have more downtime than usual as a result of the Covid bubble imposed at the Games.

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A generation of Chinese citizens are used to a different type of internet than the western world.

The move is thought to effectively allow Beijing to build a system of values, and the ruling Chinese Communist Party is also known to heavily censor Chinese social media sites such as Weibo.

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Social media platform Weibo came to western attention recently in the case of tennis player Peng Shuai.

The former doubles champion made a lengthy post in November accusing former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault.

The post was taken down in minutes before Peng appeared to disappear from public view.

This week, the platform was fined three million yuan ($471,165) by the Cyberspace Administration of China for repeatedly allowing “information forbidden by law and regulations”, in an action believed to be linked to the incident.

In response, Weibo said that it “sincerely accepts” the CAC’s punishment and vowed it will “earnestly fulfil” an order to clean up its act.

Google ended some of its services in China more than ten years ago, with the reasons behind the culmination censored.

The company’s email service, web browser and search engine have not been available to mainland users in China since 2014.

Until 2013, Google had displayed warning messages for mainland Chinese users who were attempting to search for politically sensitive phrases.

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