This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.
The “Great Firewall” allows the Chinese government to censor the internet domestically but a new discovery found that even users outside the mainland are affected by the intense policing. "League of Legends" gamers recently found that the word “Uyghur,” referring to the persecuted Chinese minority (aka Uighur), was censored from the popular video game.
"League of Legends" features a multiplayer battle arena where users from all over the world compete. It is developed by Los Angeles-based Riot Games, which has been acquired by the Chinese company Tencent.
The spotlight on the issue started after Reddit user ResplendentShade posted about the censorship on the r/leagueoflegends subreddit. In the since removed thread from yesterday (archive can be found here), the user said:
“Try changing your status message to Uyghur. You can't. It's a legitimate word of a legitimate ethnic group, but Tencent-owned League is so sensitive about covering up the ongoing genocide of the Uyghur people that they won't even let you use the word.”
Over the past two years, the Chinese government has come under international scrutiny for placing an estimated 1 million Muslim Uighurs in so-called "re-education camps." VICE undercover investigations released in June found that the Chinese government uses surveillance technology to spy on the Muslim minority in Xinjiang, as well as taking children separated from their families to be raised by the state.
Other "League of Legends" gamers on the subreddit thread checked themselves and reported that they experienced the same thing.
“I just tried this and interestingly enough uyghurs isn't filtered but uyghur is,” user yuj808 said.
Peter Hansen, who goes by @daokedao1234 on Twitter, investigated the censorship of words on the game himself.
“I logged in myself and attempted to set my user status to ‘Uyghur,’ it reset itself to being empty within a few seconds,” he told VICE.
He posted a screen record of his findings to Twitter, which shows him trying to set a status using the word ‘Uyghur’ and the screen resetting itself after.
The issue reached the League of Legends team, which un-censored the word ‘Uyghur’ in the game.
In a tweet yesterday, Communications Lead for League Of Legends Ryan Rigney said the issue has been fixed, effective immediately.
“We'll be spending the next few weeks triaging with our global teams to review our ‘disallowed words/phrases’ lists and update accordingly,” he said.
“In total, the [Reddit] thread was 5 hours old by the time a [Riot] representative responded in the threat that they were investigating the issue, and 7 hours old when they finally corrected the Uyghur censorship,” Hansen said.
However, many other words deemed to be controversial in China remain banned.
“I found that 天安门 (Tiananmen), 自由 (freedom), 真相 (truth), genocide, and great firewall were all banned, but the names of [figures] like 蒋中正 (Chiang Kai-shek) and 蔡英文 (Tsai Ing-wen) were not,” he said.
“Tiananmen,” “freedom,” and “truth” were typed out in Mandarin while “genocide” and “great firewall” were typed in English.
In a video posted on YouTube, Hansen shared a screen recording of these words getting censored when he types them into the status bar of "League of Legends." Like ‘Uyghur,’ when these words were input on the status, they were reset in a matter of seconds.
Hansen ran these tests on the North American server and explained that “In effect, the censorship makes it so that your friends see ‘Online’ [as your status] instead of what you wrote in that space.”
As of today, a series of tests by Hansen show that the words mentioned above, as well as "falun gong" (the name of a banned religion/cult in China) and "RFA" (Radio Free Asia, a United States government-funded news organisation in Asia) are also blocked when written in English.
The word 'Uyghur' in both English and Mandarin has been uncensored.
There is also a Reddit thread that lists all the words banned on the Taiwanese server. In a post, user definitelynotmudkip said: “while 天安門 ("tiananmen") itself is not banned, the simplified chinese version, 天安门, is banned.”
The user also said that the following words, among a list of others, remain censored in Taiwan: “文化大革命 (cultural revolution),” “赤匪 (communist spy),” “林鄭月娥” (Carrie Lam),” "hrichina (website about human rights in china),” “川普” (literally "Trump"),” and “迪里夏提 (Uighur representative).”
The words censored are different depending on the server a gamer is connected to. Hansen found that most words that Reddit users were saying were banned in Taiwan were also banned in the US.
“Tsai Ing-wen and Chiang Kai-shek were the only ones I've encountered so far that were not blocked in North America” Hansen told VICE after checking Leagues of Legend.
“DPP (Short for Democratic Progressive Party, the currently ruling and anti-Unification political party in Taiwan) [is] also currently banned in North America,” while “KMT (KuoMinTang, currently the pro-Unification party in Taiwan and favored by China) [is] not currently banned in North America.”