HK backspace, backspace: Censors delete news of Hong Kong’s protests, but not quite fast enough

Streets in Hong Kong have been filled with protesters calling for democratic reform and tweeting their experiences furiously. But in mainland China, people are struggling to discuss the unrest online. Censors have been poring over Weibo, China’s closely controlled version of Twitter, to scrub out even oblique references to it.The chart below shows the number of deleted posts every day since April among a sample of between 50,000 and 60,000 users in mainland China. On September 28th, the most tumultuous day of the protests, deletions hit a record: 15 of every 1,000 posts, more than five times normal levels. Mentions of “Hong Kong police” and any posts with a #HongKong hashtag fell afoul of the censors. The data were compiled by Weiboscope, a censorship-monitoring programme at the University of Hong Kong. FreeWeibo, a website developed by, another Chinese censorship watchdog, captured many of the deleted posts. Most were written by ordinary users: people with a few thousand followers whose non-censored messages revealed otherwise unexceptional lives, of dinners with family and frustrations with traffic jams.

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