Million-Word Novel Censored Before Publication, Chinese Censorship Sparks Anger

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The Chinese novelist, who writes under the pseudonym Mitu, was working with WPS, a domestic version of cloud-based word processing software similar to Google Docs when she couldn’t open the draft because it apparently contains illegal information

Representative image. Getty Images

Beijing: Imagine you’ve been painstakingly writing your book for years – the one you believe will finally make you a recognized author and you’ve almost reached the finish line, and suddenly poof! The online word processor tells the user that they cannot open the draft because it apparently contains illegal information. Years of painful research, gone in an instant. And something exactly the same happened to a Chinese novelist in June, who writes under the pseudonym Mitu.

According to a report by technologyreview.com, Mitu was working with WPS, a nationwide version of cloud-based word processing software similar to Google Docs when this happened. The woman went to Chinese literature forum Lkong on June 25 and accused WPS of spying and locking her draft citing illegal content.

The news then exploded on Weibo, with users asking if WPS was invading their privacy. What has happened is that Mitu’s complaint has sparked a discussion on social media in China that ranges from censorship to tech platform liability, underscoring the tension between Chinese users increasingly more aware of privacy and the tech company’s obligation to censor material on behalf of the Chinese government.

Economic Observer also reported that several online novelists outside of Mitu have also had their drafts locked in the past for unknown reasons. They reported that in the first quarter of 2022, WPS had 25.37 million paid users, and by the end of 2021, the number of WPS mobile monthly users had reached 321 million. That’s a lot of users and potentially a lot of censorship.

In an interaction with technologyreview.com, Tom Nunlist, an analyst on China’s cyber and data policy at Beijing-based research group Trivium China, revealed that there could be a collision between user awareness and censorship of tech companies in China.

Mitu, for her part, questions the decision stating that she was the only person to edit it when it was locked, questioning WPS’s decision to review users’ private documents and decide arbitrarily an action plan with them.

Following the complaint, the firm issued two press releases. He clarified that the software does not censor locally stored files, but the company was vague about what it does to files shared online, saying, “All platforms that provide online information services are responsible for the review of the content broadcast on their platforms. “, citing China’s cybersecurity law.

According to a report from Android Police, while WPS itself hasn’t confirmed whether the act of sharing elicits reviews, a comment on WPS customer service appears to confirm the assumption that linking sharing effectively triggers a review mechanism.

The report adds that concerned Chinese citizens are now asking WPS for clarification, but their voices remain largely ignored as censorship is intertwined with local regulations.

With contributions from agencies

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