VERY SOON after the Japan earthquake, reports went around about how Chinese netizens were jumping for joy. They were followed by reports noting the ambiguity of the sentiments of Chinese netizens—about how many were sympathetic and even impressed with Japan’s poise in the face of tragedy. And there were also reports about how many Chinese netizens were opposed to the anti-Japanese bigotry and hatred of their countrymen.
It’s those last ones—the rational, the reasonable, the sympathetic—that Baidu would like you to know much more about, apparently. And those first ones? Please forget about those.
A Baidu search for the term 热烈庆祝日本地震, literally “enthusiastically celebrate japan earthquake” (note, no quotation marks) results in the message “according to the relevant laws and regulations a portion of the results were not shown,” followed by a series of generic items about the earthquake.
When the full phrase is searched with quotation marks, meaning that only results that contain that exact phrase are displayed, every entry is about how Chinese netizens are “reconsidering” or should “not celebrate” the earthquake.
Does this suggest that Baidu tampered with its search results?
This looks rather different to a search conducted previously:
Baidu is known for its cooperative relationship with the authorities.
These images do not confirm anything, but one could surely be forgiven for thinking them to suggest that Baidu went into damage control, yanked out the psycho messages, and promoted the positive ones. It is understandable.
Shall we recall some of the comments from netizens? One wrote: “When all the Japanese are dead I’ll be happy.” Another wrote, “I wish Japan has wave after wave of earthquake and tsunami, and that they all die on the beach!” It also extended outside the web. One user posted a banner hanging above a Chinese shop, saying: “Enthusiastically celebrate Small Japan’s 8.8 scale Big earthquake and Big tsunami”.
When the authorities have whipped up anti-Japanese sentiment in the past they have had to figure out how to put a lid on it when it gets too much. In this case, they didn't need to incite anything (though one never knows the 50 cent factor), but they did need to shut it down.
It reflects rather poorly on your netizenry, does it not, when they are baying for the blood of a people who have just been hit with a devastating natural disaster?
I sent an email to Baidu's PR asking for clarification. Let’s see what they say.