Meng set up Boxun in 2000 to spread word on the pro-democracy movement, human rights, and corruption, much of it submitted by readers in a form of citizen journalism. Its edgy nature has brought it under hacker attack before and forced it to go without advertising since 2005. The U.S. government-funded National Endowment for Democracy provided funding for several years, but Meng says it is now wholly independent.
Not all of Boxun’s reports have held water and it has offered competing accounts of what drove the decision to cashier Bo. But many of its reports on allegations of Gu’s involvement in the Heywood death and the Bo’s falling-out with Wang have since been proven true or been corroborated by other sources.
Traffic to the site has grown 155 percent over the past three months, according to Internet monitoring firm Alexa, with the second largest chunk of visitors coming from China, despite government blocks.
China heavily censors the Internet and blocks Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and scores of other overseas sites. Government monitors swiftly remove sensitive postings and have tried to rein in Weibo by requiring proof of identification for new accounts and sometimes disabling sections where comments can be posted.
Still, the sites have a profound effect. Witness reports on a horrific train collision last year prompted disgust at officials’ callousness and a sweeping safety review.
One reason why the government may not have cracked down harder on the Internet so far is because parties within the establishment also use it to attack their foes, spread disinformation or advance their own agendas, said Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet Project at the University of California-Berkeley.
But they can’t completely control the online discussions or filter out all unwanted revelations, Xiao said.
“Those facts and opinions generate pressure or create the conditions for the government to take actions such as firing Bo Xilai,” he said.