The Berlin Twitter Wall v the Great Firewall of China

In 2009, the Chinese authorities blocked access to the Berlin Twitter Wall from within China following a flood of tweets calling for an end to internet censorship, writes Judith Bruhn.

The case

To mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Kulturprojekte Berlin GmbH and construktiv GmbH initiated and developed the Berlin Twitter Wall. From 20 October until 15 November 2009, users from across the world were invited to share their thoughts on the fall of the wall, their hopes for the future, and particularly their views on which walls still had to fall.

Three days after the launch, the first Chinese tweet appeared, calling for the fall of the “Great Firewall”, as the Chinese authorities’ control and blocking of the internet has been dubbed. What followed was a flood of tweets from China, demanding the end of internet censorship. “The fate of a wall is to be climbed and eventually be torn down, whether tangible or intangible, there are no exceptions!”, the user suddenlight wrote on 25 October 2009. Around 40% of the total number of tweets, which exceeded 7,500, on the Berlin Twitter Wall were in Chinese. Three days later, the Chinese authorities blocked the Berlin Twitter Wall to prevent access from inside China.

Author opinion

Unlike the original Berlin Wall, the Berlin Twitter Wall acted not as a method of limiting freedom and exchange, but rather as a forum to share, exchange, and express ideas across walls and boundaries.  Chinese internet users turned the Berlin Twitter Wall into a display of their protest against internet censorship. Much like Chinese activists had posted ideas and criticisms on the 1978 Democracy Wall in Beijing, Chinese internet users in 2009 tweeted on the virtual Twitter Wall. The virtual Twitter Wall, like the physical wall on Chang’an Avenue, was quickly cut off by Chinese authorities. It is fitting that a virtual wall, the Berlin Twitter Wall, would serve as a place of protest against another virtual wall - the Great Firewall of China.

The Chinese tweets did not call for revolution; nor were they attempts to overthrow the government. Like the user suddenlight, they asked for the freedom to access and share information freely online. Blocking the site was not justified but serves to illustrate Chinese netizens’ continued protest against the Great Firewall of China.

- Judith Bruhn

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    Twitter accounts and posts should be accessible for everyone, not excluding individuals or nations. The platform is about the freedom of speech and expression but the Chinese reaction is obviously not surprising although
    Article 35 of the Chinese constitution promises the right to “freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.” But the provision has absolutely no teeth. For one thing, the constitution also prohibits doing anything contrary to state interests, which seems to include dissent. Second, and more fundamentally, the rights enumerated in the Chinese constitution are not enforceable unless the national legislature makes them so by passing a supplementary law.
    Blocking the “Berlin Twitter Wall” for its nationals, China surpresses protest for a certain time which will eventually come up again and again.

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