China to crackdown on Internet Rumor spreading
The official Chinese Xinhua News Agency yesterday relayed a reminder and stern warning on behalf of China’s State Council Internet Information Office warning the World’s largest national Internet population of 500 million plus users to refrain from and to stop spreading rumors online. Warning that if they did not, they should be prepared to face penalties and punishment.
The unnamed official Chinese government Cabinet spokesman went on to compare people spreading “rumors” online to the equivalent of “malignant tumors” being spread and that they needed to be countered, prevented and removed. What exactly the Chinese government considers to be “rumors” is hard to know, but one can assume that the usage of such a vague and all encompassing term is done on purpose. Also one wonders, what happens in situations where a rumor actually turns out to be true?
The spokesman explained that Internet users in China must absolutely “abide by the law, show self-discipline and refrain from spreading rumors”. Of course, as we all know this same “requirement” seems to apply equally to the “offline” world as well. Presumably he’s singling out the online communication environment as it seems to facilitate these types of things and is particularly high on their list of social “areas” requiring their oversight and control.
These comments of course come as a warning specifically targeted towards Chinese bloggers and microbloggers which the Chinese Internet Network Information Center now numbers in excess of 200 million strong and growing exponentially and who’s user generated “content” the Chinese government is finding increasingly overwhelming to monitor, censor and control.
He specifically cited an example of a micro-blog hosted on the Twitter meets Facebook like Sina Weibo‘s website which attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors and regular readers and has since been taken offline. This micro-blog acted as a sort of daily online diary and was supposedly run by a 31 year old man who was pretending to be a 22 year old prostitute working in the city of Hangzhou and blogging about the life and politics of the underground world of prostitution in the city and country at large. In this particular case, one can only wonder if the Chinese authorities objections were more with the fact that the individual was alleged to have been posing as someone he was not or if it was more the subject matter that they found “sensitive”, “revealing” or politically incorrect by their standards. Perhaps all of the above?
Members of the Communist Party’s Politburo have been massively stepping up visits and notices to major Internet companies operating in the country of late, issuing stern reminders to local authorities and website operators that they should be more strict and effective at policing content on their networks and holding people spreading rumors accountable by penalizing them accordingly to the fullest extent of the law. This particularly comes in the wake of a deadly train crash which took place in China in July of this year and made international headlines. During this incident online commentators and bloggers heavily criticized the governments handling of the case and spread information, photos and videos which conflicted with the governments “official” story.
Perhaps the most troubling part of all this is that China’s internet model is increasingly being looked to by foreign governments and companies (including in the West) as a laboratory and test bed for forced online identity services and the enforcement of total accountability on Internet users by seeking to tie one’s online accounts, profiles and content to their official nation’s legal citizen’s identity. Most Governments and Corporations the world over have been pushing for this situation for years now. It is true that while in some select cases and for some select applications this may not seem troublesome and can potentially be a good thing for the online and offline ecosystems, as a whole and if applied across the board to all web usage it does bring with it some truly very serious and grave privacy and free speech dangers that must be addressed.
When we reads news like this, we are reminded on how the Internet in the 21st century will become Big Brother’s most fantastic and promising wet dream to date if the citizens of the world sit idly by and do nothing to protect and truly establish their rights online while they still have the capacity to do so. As such an integral part of the global communication landscape and world economy, it is more crucial than ever that citizens stay informed and lobby their governments to pass just laws in order to preserve, strengthen and reassert their “online” and consequently “offline” rights. If not, we risk turning the web into a totally muted and politically correct mash up of repetitive rehashed spoon fed commentary with people always worried to deviate from the “official” story and express themselves freely because of the threat that everything they say online will be forever cataloged and stored for a day when it may be used against them. I think it’s safe to say that this is not the type of scenario the free thinking expressive citizens of the world want to become the norm. Not to mention it would make the Internet a pretty boring place.