The Office of Central Leading Group for Cyberspace Affairs (CAC) has recently reported the release of “New regulations for online group moderation.” In other words, founders and moderators of online groups are responsible for the actions of their members. On Sep 11th, the police department issued an “urgent warning” for internet users. They advised users to take caution and refrain from discussing “political topics,” “unauthorised news from Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong” and “sensitive information associated with the government.”
This announcement has unleashed a series of debates.
As reported by the China Economy Net on Sep 11, many service providers have been disciplined. Administrators have been detained for breaching new rules. Some of which specifically apply to WeChat, one of the most influential social media service in China. It can be regarded as the equivalent of WhatsApp or Facebook in the western society.
WeChat users have responded to these “warnings” with mockery and sarcastic comments. Some suggested that such disciplinary laws belonged to the dark days of the Cultural Revolution. Others mocked Mao’s “Little Red Book” in exaggerated idolization. They quoted “To show you are loyal to the country, and more importantly to the leader” at the start of each sentence.
User A: ‘Long live President Mao! Have you guys had dinner yet? Come online.’
User B: ‘To achieve our communist society! Yes, just finished my takeaway.’
User C:’ only the communist party can save China! Not me.’
User D:’Will fully support all decisions made by the central government. I just did.’
User B: ‘the communist to me is as the sun to the flower! Don’t think I am able to make it home these holidays.’
These forms archaic punishment resembles those during the Chinese cultural revolution in the 1979’s. Let us examine the consequences of China’s new cybersecurity laws with an example.
Pressure from disciplinary implementations has driven an administrator to transfer the role to his sister who is an American citizen. His sister was not impressed and regarded such “collective punishment” unconstitutional. She was also concerned that her involvement would prevent her from returning to China. She thus passed the admin title onto her husband’s 8-year-old grandson in the US.
So, the baton has been passed onto an 8-year-old child who is oblivious to applications like WeChat, illiterate in Chinese and has now become the nominal admin in charge of a group of Chinese social media users online. The absurdity of the situation is evident. But cases as such will manifest if fear continues to be the form of disciplinary enforcement utilised by the Chinese government.
The ‘US conspiracy’ has been promoted for decades by authorised Chinese media. The general idea is that Americans are attempting to control China through financial and social support.
With an increasingly number of media admin roles being transferred to US westerners from Chinese citizens, the communist party seems to be leading the country to into US sovereignty.
Let us consider a series of questions in the centre of heated discussions. These questions are specific to each of the nine sections of the new regulations and have been raised by a child of the an online user.
1，”Discussions of sensitive political topics are not allowed”, but what constitutes as sensitive political information?
2，”Do not believe or spread rumours.” What is the criteria that allows us to distinguish facts from rumours? During the Cultural Revolution, the government claimed to harvest 15,000kg of crops per hector of land, and one was forbidden from challenging such claim. If any source of information is deemed correct by the party, do they automatically become facts?
3， “The spreading of documents reserved for ‘internal’ release is not allowed.” How do we define or classify ‘internal’ information? I am merely an average Chinese citizen. Does that mean that I am regarded as an ‘outsider?’
4， “Topics related to pornography, gambling and illegal drug trading are not allowed.” What is the scope of the term “related”? Does that limit discussions too?
5， “Discussions of unauthorized news from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan are not allowed before official verification and media report.” But how come? We have been taught that these three districts all belong to China. Why are news from these three regions treated differently?
6，“Posts regarding military news are not allowed.” What about government authorized news such as the breakthrough of new aircraft carriers and the development of new missiles? Are those allowed?
7，“Information related to national security should not be discussed.” Again, what does “national security” information comprise of?
8，“The sharing and spreading of fabricated videos that insult the police is not allowed.” How do we judge the authenticity of these videos? Which ones are fake?
These regulations all involve the word “relating.” What exactly constitutes as “relating?” Is a simple referral to a subject considered a breach of these rules?
Are there still restrictions on expressions of speech and personal opinions in society today? To what extent are we free to explore societal issues and ideas today?
The Washington Post, the CNN and other forms of Western based media have regarded China’s cybersecurity as a violation of human rights. Such censorship is considered a backtrack in our achievements in the freedom of expression.
But the extent to which the Chinese Communist Party expands its influence, remains to be seen.