February 22nd, 2011
02:17 AM GMT
Beijing, China (CNN) – Peng Gaofeng appeared exhausted, but the migrant worker couldn't have been more content.
After three years of searching for his son, Wenle, he and his child were playing together at the offices of internet company Sina in Beijing. Peng traveled here last Friday to express his gratitude to some of the people behind China's version of Twitter for helping him bring his son back home. "Without the Internet, it would be too difficult - nearly impossible - to find my child," he told me.
Across the Middle East, social media is fueling political change. In China, it is fanning civic campaigns. Chinese bloggers are encouraging private citizens to fight injustices such as child trafficking. People are taking photos of street kids and uploading them on blogs for hundreds of millions of people to see and potentially identify them as missing children. And the Internet censors aren't stopping them.
Deng Fei, a reporter turned activist, says saving children is an indisputably worthy cause. Thousands are kidnapped every year here, he said, to be sold to factories or parents who want a son. Deng says the Internet is a game changer in this regard. He said, for many distraught parents, searching for one kidnapped child in a country of 1.3 billion people is seemingly futile and often costly. Deng said, "Tweeting changed all that. It spreads information openly, quickly, and cheaply."
Wenle was nabbed outside his parents' shop in Shenzhen, southern China in March 2008. Peng turned his shop into a search center for his son, offered a hefty award, and lobbied the government for assistance. Yet it wasn't until he started posting photos of his child on a blog that he received the tip that would end his search for good.
A university student had recognized Wenle in a town in Jiangsu, about 1200 kilometers from where the boy was taken. The student sent Peng a photo. Peng contacted the police and traveled to the town where his son had been staying with another family. It is unclear who kidnapped Wenle. The emotional reunion of Peng and his son was captured on video by Deng, enthralling netizens throughout the country.
There are limits though to the online chatter the Chinese authorities will tolerate. The apparent clamp down on the anonymous online weekend call to stage a Tunisia-style "Jasmine Revolution" here is a perfect example. The censors appear to be blocking the word "Jasmine" and have disabled options that would allow netizens to follow tweets related to the white flower.
Sina executive Meng Bo told me that , despite the controls, the Internet is evolving with China. "People react and discuss to all kinds of events on the Internet without much official restriction. It really shows our Internet is becoming more and more open."
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