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China launches new censorship crackdown on internet celebrities


Murong Xuecun

Murong Xuecun

In its latest bid to contain the often riotous jumble of news and rumor on the Chinese internet, the Communist party has decided to bring the most high-profile and influential voices to heel.

On Saturday, May 11, 2013, Hao Qun, a famous 39-year-old novelist and frequent government critic who goes by the pen name Murong Xuecun, found his account on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, deleted. He tried to open another account but failed.

Before his account was removed, Mr Hao had 1.85 million followers and his postings on the site often went viral.

The world of Weibo, which had 368 million registered users last year, operates much like Speaker’s Corner. Its most famous inhabitants command huge followings and have the power to steer debate in a way that is often uncomfortable for the Communist party.

The deletion of Mr Hao’s account follows a series of actions against other high-profile users.

He Bing, the vice president of the law school at China’s Political Science and Law university was suspended last week “for deliberately spreading rumours”. Prof He, who had close to 500,000 followers, had posted a snippet of news, which later turned out to be false, claiming that there had been a mass stabbing in a hospital in Hefei.

Since the Chinese media is carefully controlled, Weibo has developed into the country’s most important source of news.

And since newspapers and television stations are not allowed to report on many of the topics that are voiced on the internet, rumours often go unchecked and develop their own momentum.

“Some of the [high profile users] have become rumour relay stations,” noted the Global Times in an editorial last week. “Any frequent Weibo user knows that rumours cannot be widely spread unless there is a [high-profile user] helping to spread it,” it added.

“Theoretically they have the right of speech on the internet, but they should also have an equal responsibility. Currently they have no moral responsibility or legal liability for what they post.”

Kaifu Lee, the former head of Google in China, who has more followers (40 million) than Barack Obama does on Twitter (33 million), said he was careful to verify information before posting it on Weibo.

“I realise with the number of followers I have that I need to make sure the messages I forward are legitimate,” he said. “With great power comes great responsibility,” he added.

However, he noted that Weibo already has inbuilt checks that should prevent false news from gaining traction.

“If you suggest something that is clearly false and do not retract it, your reputation (online) will suffer. I think the social ecosystem should largely be self-reinforcing,” he said, adding that Sina already has a type of tribunal system that can rule over the veracity of certain posts.

Mr Lee said he did not know what the purpose of the new government “internet management” campaign was. There already exists a sophisticated censorship system that filters posts and deletes sensitive topics. “I am not in the government, so I cannot say why the government is doing this,” he said.

Zhang Lifan, a historian with almost 270,000 followers said the attempt to control high-profile users would be fruitless. “Shutting them down will not make much difference. For each account they silence, other people will speak up,” he said.

“Of course people should not spread rumours, but the government is using a double standard,” he said. “CCTV (China’s state television station) also sometimes reports the wrong news.”

The campaign appears to have sent a firm message however. Yao Bo, a commentator and restaurateur with close to 900,000 followers said a number of his friends had seen their accounts shut down. “Some of the accounts are shut down for criticizing government policy, others for reporting bits of information. I now feel I need to watch what I say before I post something,” he said.

Source: The Telegraph – China launches new crackdown on internet celebrities 
 

 

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About Political Atheist

Living in South East Asia (Vietnam & Cambodia). At the ending/starting point of the more than 1000 year old SIlk Road.

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