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Horrific Day for Tiananmen Tourists Is Banner Day for Chinese Censors

On Oct. 28, a Jeep drove into a crowd in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, killing five people and injuring 38. While the story is still breaking and details remain sparse, the response by both police and censors has been swift. On Sina Weibo, China's Twitter, the official account of the Beijing Police Department wrote that the crash occurred at 12:05 p.m on Monday. By 1:09 p.m., it continued, "traffic at the scene had returned to normal." Images on social media purporting to depict the accident show a fiery wreck mere feet from the giant portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong, which overlooks the square.

Photographs by Western photographers who arrived shortly thereafter (see top image) show plainclothes officers erecting green police barriers, obscuring the scene.

China's thousands of online censors have been just as speedy -- and frighteningly successful, even by their own standards. While some official accounts of the incident have survived online, many seemingly anodyne ones, including updates from mainstream media sources like the business magazine Caijing and newsmagazine China Weekly, have not. In fact, a search on Freeweibo.com, which tracks deleted Weibo posts, shows that many related tweets from widely-followed sources were removed so fast that they were able to generate only a handful of comments. One Weibo user complained, "Just because it's Tiananmen, all related images have been deleted; is this necessary?" Chinese censors seem to think so, emphasizing rapidity over precision and ensnaring even innocuous posts in their net.

From the perspective of Chinese censors, this all makes perfect sense. Weibo's interface groups all comments to a tweet in one place, allowing discussions by tens of thousands of users to coalesce around particularly popular or resonant posts. Authorities want to keep online chatter splintered instead. First, they never know what (potentially dangerous) direction such massive online discussion might take. They are also probably aware that Western media now watches Weibo closely: once a thought or meme goes viral, subsequent censorship is often insufficient, because Western reports will find a way to redound back into the Mainland. As the Chinese saying goes, "Once the word is out, four horses can't run it down."

The stakes are particularly high where Tiananmen Square is concerned. The massive public square in the center of Beijing was the site of the 1989 student uprising and subsequent crackdown, as well as major protests before and since, including the so-called May Fourth Movement in 1919 and, as recently as 2011, self-immolations by disgruntled citizens.

Despite Tiananmen's sensitivity, Weibo users have found clever ways to discuss it. On June 4, 2013, the most recent anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, Chinese netizens photoshopped giant rubber ducks over a famous image of tanks facing down a 1989 protester.

But anniversaries are different, because both web users and censors have ample time to plot strategy. In that scenario, it's almost inevitable that some of the memes and coded phrases invented by the Weibo-using masses will slip through, particularly those deployed in the middle of the night in China, when most censors are asleep. With this latest incident, where discussion remains highly fragmented, censors are likely receiving plaudits for a job well done.

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Singapore Tries to Stop Infidelity Site From Spreading in Asia

Unfaithful spouses in Singapore will have to get used to cheating the old fashioned way, as the world's most popular infidelity website has been banned by officials.

Ashleymadison.com, a matchmaking site that facilitates extramarital affairs in nearly 30 countries, made a big push into Asia this year, beginning with Japan and Hong Kong. The website would have launched in Singapore next year, had the government not intervened. Singapore's social affairs minister, Chan Chun Sing, argued that such a website would erode morality in the nation, which already outlaws online pornography and nudie magazines like Playboy. "Promoting infidelity undermines trust and commitment between a husband and wife, which are core to marriage," he said.

Singaporeans seem to share the sentiment. A social media campaign aimed at banning Ashleymadison.com has already accrued 25,000 supporters. Officials have vowed to block the site, under the country's Broadcasting Act.

It's a much chillier reception than the matchmaking site has received elsewhere in Asia.

When Ashleymadison.com launched in Japan, it logged 230,000 visits and 70,000 members within the first four days. Noel Biderman, who started the website in 2001, told the Wall Street Journal that he viewed Japan as a promising market because of the breadth of sexual services already available in the country. And because those services overwhelmingly target men, he added, the Japanese iteration of the site, with its pink color scheme, would specifically cater to women. The demand, it turns out, was high: During the first few days, new members were "signing up faster than customer care could screen them." Now, the site boasts 160,000 women members -- 60 percent of whom are married.

Hong Kong had the most successful launch rate to date, closing out the first month with 80,000 new members. In this iteration of the site, women can join for free while men pay about $45 to get started. Perhaps as a result, the rate of single men who have signed up is considerably higher than the worldwide average. The site's become so popular in Hong Kong that around 325,000 people in Mainland China have tried to log in, too.

CNN reports that the company plans to expand to 10 more Asian markets by June of next year, with Taiwan next on the list.

Biderman has often argued that the site isn't a threat to marriage, as Singapore's Chan Chun Sing argues, but is rather an outlet for the natural human impulse to cheat -- and that goes for both sexes. Giving people the freedom to act on these impulses, he's argued, could even help marriages. Indeed, the Japanese version of the website is marketed as a "marriage-saving site." That approach is largely aimed at women users -- though the suggestion that women are cheating in an effort to save their marriages, rather than cheating for the same reasons that men do, seems dubious, if not a bit sexist. 

The company's focus on women may prove prescient, however. Divorce in Asia has been rising steadily in recent years, largely tied to greater educational and economic opportunities for women. Asian women are marrying later, and divorcing more readily. The notion that women are choosing to cheat in greater numbers is certainly credible, though the reasons for it may be simpler than AshleyMadison.com is willing to admit.

Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images