Users fear big Chinese Twitter-like site may not reopen

Fanfou, shut down after ethnic riots, has triggered concern among users that it may not return

A popular Chinese microblog service shut down last July amid ethnic riots in China triggered concern among users on Tuesday that it may not reopen.

Fanfou was one of several Twitter-style sites in China that was shut down as part of a communications clampdown after ethnic violence that took nearly 200 lives in the country's western Muslim region, Xinjiang. Some of the Web sites have since reopened but Fanfou has remained down, and by Tuesday its developers' blog had been revamped as a login screen for users to export and save the messages they had posted via the service.

Fanfou could not immediately be reached for comment, but local media cited a message from Fanfou saying it was still possible the Web site could come back.

Still, Chinese users of Twitter have since posted hundreds of messages about Fanfou, with some speculating that the service will not return.

"It looks like Fanfou really is dead stiff," wrote a user named AmanKuang.

"Fanfou really doesn't plan to live on," wrote another, named amystarrynight.

Chinese authorities censor Internet content through various means, including obliging Web site owners to self-censor. The owners can be punished if they do not promptly erase sensitive content, including some political content such as talk of elite government corruption, posted by users on message boards or blogs.

Chinese authorities targeted social-networking Web sites after the rioting last year because they were allegedly used to help plan the violence. After the rioting started, some users on microblog sites including Fanfou posted messages about conditions in the region.

Twitter, along with Facebook, was also blocked in China after the riots, but some Chinese users still access the service with a circumvention tool like a virtual private network (VPN).

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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