By on March 21, 2012

From the Times of India to Jalopnik, all have the harrowing story that the Chinese government did “ban the word “Ferrari” from online searches.” According to the reports, a young man was killed on Sunday after his Ferrari 458 was split in two in Beijing. The reports say he was the son of senior Communist party official. According to the reports, that caused the word “Ferrari” to vanish from Internet searches in China. The Daily Mail wrote yesterday: “All references to the Italian supercar company were mysteriously removed from China’s online search engines in the early hours this morning.“ Jalopnik explains in its trademark shallow detail “why Chinese censors banned ‘Ferrari’ from internet search.”

I happened to be in China since Sunday. I volunteer life, limb, and personal freedom to put the story to the test.

When I put “Ferrari” into Google, I get pages of stories.

“Ferrari” definitely is not banned from this search engine, despite a hit that says that the story is off limits in China. Google even leads me to a big Chinese car site, Autohome.com.cn, which reports that “Jia Qinglin’s illegitimate son is suspected to have died in a black Ferrari 458 Spider that crashed under a bridge in Beijing, killing the driver and injuring the passengers.” The site delves deeply into details, says that the 458 Spider has only two seats, but was occupied by a driver and two females. Jia Qinglin is a member of the Politburo.

Well, you say, Google. Sure, Google searches in China are re-routed to www.google.com.hk, but that’s mainly a face-saving exercise. My  (and anybody else’s) searches from China on Google are unmolested. After hours of on-line searches for “Ferrari” from a desk in China, using the public network and no VPN circumvention, my door has yet to be kicked in. Should I write again tomorrow, I will not have been dragged away for questioning. Keep your fingers crossed. Or keep hoping, wherever you may stand.

Ok, let’s move to a truly indigenous Chinese search engine, Baidu. Ferrari is alive and well here. Baidu likewise shows walls of hits for “Ferrari”, along with juicy tidbits about the crash of a Ferrari in Beijing that “suddenly hit the walls on the south side of the bridge, then crashed into the north side of the fence.”

The hits are (duh) in Chinese, you just have to take my word for it. Baidu even has snippets on the story being blocked from Chinese “fishing nets” (i.e. search engines.) Oddly, those very snippets are not blocked on Baidu, the premier Chinese search engine. Inscrutable Orient.

Further digging shows that “Ferrari” as a search term is alive and well on all Chinese search engines. Typing “Ferrari” into any Chinese search engine produces pages upon pages of hits. It does not lead to the familiar sudden temporary outage caused by, say a Google search for nude pictures. It also does not lead to the familiar connection reset that immediately happens when I accidentally access Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube from China.

Also, I can access, from China, a story in the New York Times, where a reporter writes about yesterday’s top searches in China. He writes about finding the Ferrari story in Baidu, he writes that “Bloggers, microbloggers and tweeters quickly seized on the story, lighting up the Sinosphere with photos, rants and rumors.” The New York Times hardly corroborates the story that searches for “Ferrari” are being blocked in China.

The source of the rumor finally is being traced to Global Times. Oddly enough, Global Times is the English-writing sister publication of Communist Party owned People’s Daily. Global Times writes in great detail about the accident, and finally says:

“Sina deleted all microblog posts which mentioned the accident, and blocked online searches of the word “Ferrari.” The Global Times also found that news reports about the crash were deleted from many web portals, such as Tencent’s QQ online chat service.”

Well, that’s down from “China’s online search engines” to “Sina.” However, a search for “Ferrari” on Sina.com.cn likewise produces ample hits. Even more inscrutable Orient. “Sina” probably stands for “Sina Weibo,” a fake Twitter. The real Twitter is blocked in China.

The story about “Ferrari” being blocked from Chinese search engines is a red-faced lie. Oddly enough, it may have been caused by a too hasty read of a newspaper that is owned by China’s Communist Party. True, some microblogging sites may have been moderating initial posts without the necessary moderation. It didn’t prevent the Sinosphere from wading knee-deep through photos, rants and rumors.

As the New York Times attests, the story of the dead son of a party chief and his two girlfriends is all over China. “Ferrari” can be accessed on all search engines. Jalopnik, along with other lazy outlets, has been led astray by China’s Communist Party.

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31 Comments on “Jalopnik, Others, Duped By Communist Party Newspaper...”


  • avatar
    Matt Hardigree

    Thanks for the note Bertel. Actually, we weren’t dupped by anyone. If you follow China Digital Times they track banned search terms from China. As you’re well aware, Chinese censors frequently change banned terms as need be. For a time “Ferrari” and “Falali” (what Chinese web folks use to get around the direct term) were indeed blocked, as well as other search terms related to the crash.

    Here is the proof:

    https://docs.google.com/a/jalopnik.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Aqe87wrWj9w_dFpJWjZoM19BNkFfV2JrWS1pMEtYcEE&hl=en_US#gid=0

    Love the headline, though. I appreciate that you think the word of Jalopnik is more important than the word of the New York Times and BBC and The Atlantic and others.

    • 0 avatar
      BrtStlnd

      Napoleon complex is an informal term describing an alleged type of inferiority complex which is said to affect some people, especially men, who are short in stature. The term is also used more generally to describe people who are driven by a perceived handicap to overcompensate in other aspects of their lives. Other names for the term include Napoleon syndrome and Short Man syndrome.

    • 0 avatar

      Matt, you need to learn more about the world’s largest car market. You are still being duped. Read the China Digital Times carefully. They say:

      “As rumors of the mysterious Ferrari crash have been circulating in cyberspace, CDT staff conducted an independent test on Sina Weibo (on March 19th and 20th) and uncovered a brief list of banned search terms that are directly related to the crash:

      “Ferrari” (法拉利), “Shangshu” (尚书, a government official title in Imperial China)*
      “North 4th Ring (area) + car accident” (北四环+车祸; area of the crash), “Baofusi + car accident” (保福寺+车祸; location of the crash), “falali” (Chinese pronunciation of Ferrari, often used by netizens to bypass censorship).”

      They conducted a search on Weibo. Weibo (the Chinese version of Twitter) may have blocked these terms. Your spreadsheet shows search terms that allegedly are blocked on Weibo, not “banned search terms from China.” Weibo can do whatever it wants. Facebook blocks nude pictures, and has a bad word list. Even TTAC has a (rather short) bad word list. Weibo is not the Chinese Internet, Weibo is not the Chinese search engines, it isn’t even a search engine.

      Lastly, posts on Weibo should be treated with even more caution than tweets.

      Ample proof has been produced that Ferrari is not blocked on Chinese search engines.

      • 0 avatar
        Matt Hardigree

        Yes, that is one example of proof that search terms were banned on an extremely popular Chinese web portal. When did you do your test? Where were you at the time? Have the Chinese never unbanned a term?

      • 0 avatar

        Get it in your head:

        - Ferrari has not been banned from Chinese search engines.
        - The word Ferrari is not censored

        What seems to have happened is that mods at Weibo and only at Weibo have put the thing on their bad word list.

        If Jalopnik or TTAC puts something on our bad word list, that word is not “censored from Internet search.” If we moderate posts, the U.S. Government does not moderate the posts. If Weibo, for whatever reasons, does not like the story, then it’s not the Chinese government banning the word “Ferrari” from online searches.

        As noted in the story, my tests have been conducted over the past hours from a desk in China, using the Chinese Internet. It still works, and I have not been arrested.

        Chinese censors have not banned Ferrari from Internet search. You wrote nonsense.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    So, what has changed in China that the western press hasn’t caught on to when it comes to censorship? When did things change? Is it a constitutional change or just not practiced anymore?

  • avatar
    grzydj

    Ray Wert is going to get on you about your tracking and kerning again. Tsk, tsk.

  • avatar
    jeanpierresarti

    Thanks for the clarification.

  • avatar
    Matt Hardigree

    So, by Bertel’s own admission he didn’t search until “the past hours” as opposed to our story (based on significant reports with proof that sites did ban search terms related to the crash) based on an incident that happened days ago. Until you can prove to me that the terms weren’t banned a few days ago as reported by The BBC, Guardian, NY Times, International Times Herald, et cetera, you’re the one lying, not us.

    • 0 avatar
      grzydj

      See if this search term is banned in your area.

      http://www.google.com/search?q=how+to+fix+a+terrible+website

      I’m thinking it must be since you obviously haven’t been able to google this before.

    • 0 avatar

      You are obfuscating. You wrote that Ferrari is banned from Chinese search engines. It is not.

      The terms weren’t allegedly banned “a few days ago.” China Digital Times reports them as banned on 3/20 and 3/21.

      I conducted my tests on 3/21. I only trust what I test myself. The results are above.

      On 3/21, “Ferrari” was not banned on the Google China search engine, it was not banned on the Baidu China search engine, it was not banned on the Sina China search engine.

      • 0 avatar
        Matt Hardigree

        The accident occurred on 3/19 and NTDTV reported as much. NTD, as you know, is Falun Gong, operated. That was our initial source, not The Global Post as you attribute to us misleadingly . The Falun Gong are hardly the Chinese Community party, in fact they are not allowed by the Chinese Gov’t as you are probably well aware.

        Searches, as shown, were limited on Sina Weibo at least at some point. That’s a site with 300 million users. If removing Ferrari and various terms from search for a site with a base of 300 million people isn’t censorship then we have remarkably different views of censorship.

        Also, you still haven’t proven that on 3/19 or 3/20 searches weren’t restricted (I’ve provided evidence of one major site where it was).

      • 0 avatar

        The Falun Gong is as much not the Chinese government as Al Quaeda is not the U.S. government.

        In matters Chinese, the word of the Falun Gong should be treated with as much suspicion as the Al Queda’s opinion on American matters.

        I wouldn’t trust either as a source, on any matters.

      • 0 avatar
        Lumbergh21

        Just because a website – no matter how big – bans a search term, that hardly equates to the government banning the term from internet search engines. As pointed out above, just because certain terms, words, or political views may be banned from a website that does not mean they are banned from internet searches. Try disagreeing with somebody on an NPR program website when they rail against George Bush and/or praise Barack Obama and your comments will be removed. Do it a second time and you will be banned from the website. Does this mean that the US government has banned all speech contrary to the current President?

        Secondly, I admit to only skimming the article above, but I do not see anywhere that Mr. Schmitt claimed that you or the other media outlets who ran this story were “lying” only that you had been duped and failed to verify the story before running it. You are the one claiming that he is lying. You aren’t the first media outlet to run an inaccurate story, and I’m betting you won’t be the last. Just admit you screwed up.

  • avatar
    morbo

    Man, all this unresolved tension between you two. i suggest you two rent a room and having angry make-up sex.

    Guessing the baby formed from Jalopnik and TTAC wuold be AutoBlog?

  • avatar
    carguy

    Nice work Bertel

  • avatar
    jeoff

    While I do not doubt your results, and your conclusion is most probably correct. However, on my first trip to China, about six years ago, sites were sporadically unavailable (I assume blocked) in different regions. In Shanghai and Tianjin, I think that I remember that I could access Hotmail, but not in Beijing. In my last trip to Shanghai, I could not find a website that was blocked. I am not sure that web searches would work the same way, but do not assume that the Chinese government (or our government) is consistent in its capriciousness.

    • 0 avatar

      The blocking works on different levels.

      First, there is the Chinese firewall. It blocks access to individual sites and performs keyword blocks.

      Then, there are ISP-specific blocks. What is objectionable to one ISP may not be objectionable to the other. When you were in Shanghai, access was most likely through the network of a 5star. Individual network, could have been totally unblocked.

      Finally, there are site-specfific blocks. These blocks work just like site specific moderation over here. If Weibo doesn’t like the story, their choice. Autohome likes it and gets the traffic. These are not “government censors.” This is the trap Jalopnik et al were led into.

      If Global Times, a paper owned by the Communist Party, writes at great length about the accident, AND about blocks at “Sina” (probably meaning Sina Weibo,) then this should be ample evidence that there is no government censorship on THAT topic.

      Actually, Global Times is quite critical of the matter. To wit:

      “Children of the wealthy and powerful families are known as China’s rich or “second generation,” a title earning them notoriety. Many media reports, revealing these children openly flout the law, have raised public debate over social conscience and the gap between the rich and poor. “

  • avatar
    naterator

    These are the sort of arrogant, “F-U” responses one would expect of Jalopnik. Which is one of the reasons I quit going to their site over a year ago. That, and the horrible site redesign.

  • avatar
    Lynchenstein

    Unless you are currently in China, doing Web searches for “Ferrari” this is pretty much a non-story. Who cares? China sensors all kinds of things. Not news.

    Bertel and Matt are simply having a car-nerd/blogger slap fight in public, thus perhaps driving up the hit counts on both of their respective online publications.

    Move along…

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    Will you guys be picking up the self-immolating Jeep Wrangler and hush money story any time soon?

  • avatar
    Snavehtrebor

    Seriously, do people use Jalopnik for actual automotive news? It’s infotainment at best.

  • avatar
    mzr

    This is hard hitting journalism. Better tag another post with my own name.

  • avatar
    Speed Spaniel

    Regarding this article and the catty back and forth about who’s right, my provincial American brain sez, “who really cares?”. Yawn. This article is as boring and insignificant as the write up about the local Home Depot truck a month or so ago.

  • avatar
    acuraandy

    With what iv’e written on TTAC, i’m surprised it is not blocked in China, let alone our esteemed fellow posters.

    This is akin to Jalopnik stating a few months back, ‘New Corvette drawings released – with a GM persons’ job at risk’.

    A suggestion: take whatever you read on the ‘internets’ with a grain of salt. Especially regarding the death of a Communist party member’s son. With two ‘seatcovers’ in a two seater ride.


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