Combating Coronavirus Censorship

In recent global events concerning the coronavirus outbreak, Chinese media has seen heightened efforts to censor news and information surrounding the virus. In an effort to combat this censorship, developer and Arweave community member Sam Rahimi set out on a mission to document COVID-19 information on the permaweb, by creating the Daily Corona Archives — a simple dashboard that lets you view the daily statistics for each region, going back to mid-January, when the initial outbreak in Wuhan, China first became public knowledge.

When we discovered Sam’s project, we decided to team up and work together on another project called WeiBlocked: a tool that helps people archive, record, and automatically discover which content is being censored or deleted on the Chinese social media platform Weibo. We caught up with Sam to hear more about his motivation for creating this archive, where his archiving projects are in the development process, and what Sam envisions for the future of archiving censored media.

Daily Corona Archives

Sam Rahimi has always had an interest in epidemiology and he has been trying to catch the coronavirus to store it on Arweave, or at least, archiving a permanent and tamper-proof record of how the virus is spreading. Sam explains more about the project and why he chose Arweave:

“I host a popular Twitter account that has lately been focused on providing accurate information about the growing coronavirus pandemic, backed by solid data. In order to help people understand how the epidemic is progressing in different parts of the world, I created a simple dashboard that lets you view the daily statistics for each region, going back to mid-January, when the epidemic began.

I decided to use Arweave to archive the data being reported by health authorities all over the world on a daily basis, because I saw how countries such as China and Iran were attempting to block people from accessing information about the virus online. The next version of the archive will let users post their own datasets and browse those of other users, enabling decentralized scientific collaboration. Thanks to Arweave, it will never be possible for censors to block access to the archive.

It is also important to me that the archive remains permanently available, long after the epidemic has come to an end. Since Arweave archives are permanent, with no storage charges after the initial transaction fee, that makes it a great fit for this project”

Sam Rahimi is currently working with members of the Arweave team to create an archive of Twitter content regarding the novel coronavirus and related topics. Along with the archive, there will be a web app for users to easily view the archived content and to see which tweets have been censored or shadow-banned by Twitter. This is a similar model to what is used by WeiBlocked and shares much of the core technology; the content in this case comes from the Twitter network and is specifically aimed at capturing discussion of the coronavirus that does not align with official messages being promoted by governments and health authorities like the WHO.

Follow the project here:

Twitter: @2020WriteIn | Archive: https://samrahimi.github.io

WeiBlocked

As mentioned earlier in this piece, we saw the great work and amazing potential Sam’s projects could provide in combatting media censorship, therefore we decided to team up and work on WeiBlocked. Still in its early stages, WeiBlocked auto-archives potentially vulnerable content from the Chinese social network Weibo. Weibo has recently been in the news for hiring thousands of new content censors, helping to suppress information about the spread of the coronavirus, and clamping down on trends such as #IWantFreeSpech on their platform. Together with Sam Rahimi, we have built a tool that helps people archive, record, and automatically discover which content is being censored or deleted, and easily access it on the permaweb.

Follow the project here: https://weibo-uncensored.github.io/

As the COVID-19 epidemic continues to loom uncertainty on communities around the world, we will continue our efforts in storing as much vulnerable information as possible, and ensure that censorship will not hinder our right to access valuable, and potentially life-changing information. If you would like to join our mission in archiving vulnerable information, or you have any ideas on projects and places you’d like to see stored on the permaweb, get in touch!

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