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Monday, October 28, 2013

Images of Flames and Smoke in Tiananmen Deleted From Chinese Social Network

As my colleague Austin Ramzy reports, immediately after a fatal car crash in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on Monday, Chinese officials scrambled to clear every trace of the incident from the physical site and government censors scrubbed the Sina Weibo social network of images uploaded by witnesses.

Chinese bloggers, however, moved quickly to make copies of the images and share them on Twitter and other social networks outside the control of the authorities in Beijing. Within an hour of the crash, Zhao Jing, a prominent Internet commentator (and former New York Times employee) who blogs as Michael Anti, began sharing screenshots of the Weibo images captured by other bloggers on his Twitter feed.

As The Shanghaiist reported, the earliest and most dramatic images to appear on Weibo were a series of photographs uploaded by a blogger who uses the handle @Jing_oppa, showing the flaming wreckage of an S.U.V. directly in front of a giant portrait of Mao Zedong in the square.

Malcolm Moore, the Daily Telegraph’s Beijing correspondent, shared a copy of another image deleted from Weibo, which showed a woman being helped to her feet by an officer, said to have been taken just after the vehicle careered through the square.

Although the police used their Weibo account to make the public aware of the crash, and the temporary closing of the square, Mr. Moore reported a short time later that government censors did not appreciate his attempts to use the social network to contact witnesses.

While accounts and images of the incident were being erased from Chinese web, reporters for Western publications reported sardonically from the scene on the rapid and thorough scrubbing of the crash site, which took place out of view, behind large screens.

While foreign correspondents in Beijing reported that state news broadcasts did not mention the incident, the information black-out did not extend to all Chinese news sites.

Caixin, a Chinese business magazine, also used five of the images deleted from Weibo to illustrate reports on the incident in both English and Chinese.

Chinese state television’s English-language channel also broadcast a video report on the incident which referred to, but did not show, “flames and thick smoke in the very heart of the Chinese capital” in “photos captured by passers-by.”

A video report on a fatal car crash in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on Monday from Chinese state television’s English-language channel.

A news report on the incident could also by found on Youku, a Chinese video-sharing site modeled on YouTube, included some of the more distant images of smoke from the wreckage posted online by witnesses.

Among the other photographs removed from Weibo on Monday, according to the monitoring site FreeWeibo, were archival images shared on Twitter by Patrick Boehler, a journalist at The South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, which showed a fatal car crash in roughly the same location in 1982.

Robert Mackey also remixes the news on Twitter @robertmackey.