This article was published first in “Red Flag Manuscripts” on 24 September.
Q: Comrade Editor, hello. “Qin Huohuo”, and “Li’erchaisi” being placed in criminal detention lifted everyone’s heart, but a netizen was put under criminal detention because mistook 10 killed and 5 wounded in reporting on a traffic accident for 16 killed, which made people heavy-hearted. On 9 September, the “Two Supremes” also formulated related law to deal with “online rumours”. May I ask, is Internet public opinion tightening?
Shanghai Netizen, Wang Chao
Comrade Wang Chao:
Hello! Over the past few years, the online public opinion environment was brimming with the “smell of gunpowder”, from the “surrounding gaze” and “making soy sauce” to the “surrounding attack”, “human flesh search engine”, “online rumours”, the online environment has gone from bad to worse, critical voices against the Party, the country, the political structure and the national character lingers in our ears, all kinds of personal attacks and individual defamation, and even political rumours, appear frequently. Some people facetiously say that “browse Weibo for an hour, and you have to watch a week of News Broadcast to get back on your feet”, it cab ne seen that the “temperature difference” between the two public opinion fields of the Internet and traditional media is large. A number of offline straight and narrow “office workers” and “small white collars” change into completely different persons when they go online, they continuously air grievances and even curse the Communist Party before they satisfied their cravings. There are also some extremely dirty “rich” who solicit prostitutes offline, but when they go online, they become “the incarnation of rectitude” and “opinion leaders”. These situations are not normal, and have become a pathology.
The Internet has become a “strategic public opinion area”, and contains huge political energy. At the National Propaganda and Ideology Work Conference convened in August of this year, General Secretary Xi Jinping stressed that ideological work is an extremely important work of the Party. This Conference has had a transformative significance for the Internet public opinion sphere. On 20 August, public security organs nationwide launched a concentrated attack on online organized and premeditated fabrication and dissemination of rumours and other such unlawful and criminal activities. “Qin Huohuo”, “Li’erchaisi” and other persons were put under criminal detention in Beijing because of fabricating “online rumours”. After this the true facts about these acts was disclosed by mainstream media, many people were astonished, some netizens said: “I always knew that the water behind online rumours was very deep, but now that sunlight shines on this puddle of waste water, the undisguised truth still shocks people.” On 9 September, the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate published a judicial interpretation aimed against use of information networks to commit defamation and other such criminal cases, attacking online defamation and other such crimes. In a short time, online Big Vs who had reposed “Qin Huohuo’s” hot posts deleted their posts, and “conspiracy theories” “personal privacy infringement theories” and other voices that emerged after some Weibo celebrity was arrested for soliciting prostitutes gradually attenuated as well. The work to deal with online public opinion environment has obtained clear successes. But, just as you say in your letter, at the same time as expressing support for the punishment of online criminal activities, quite a few netizens are worried that the vitality of the network might be “suppresses”.
In fact, it is necessary to make a clear distinction between constructive criticism, suggestions and supervision and acts such as spreading rumours to create trouble, defamation, etc. The “Two Supremes'” “Judicial Interpretation” has clarified some issues on prosecuting online crime according to the law, which engendered unprecedented deterrence against online rumour fabrication and defamation, at the same time, it has also granted substantive protection to online anti-corruption and other such constructive opinions and supervision. Since a certain length of time, the Internet and traditional public opinion spheres’ “temperature difference” and “dislocation” has made quite a few people “catch colds” and “addled their heads”, online rumours have upset true information, making many people have misgivings about their trust in the Party and the government at higher levels, about the right and wrong of social phenomena at middle levels, and about the truth of life information at the lower levels. Dealing with online rumours not only cannot make the online public opinion sphere “lose its voice”, instead, it may sweep away the fog in the Internet public opinion sphere, and ensure that Internet public opinion can march towards regularity and constructiveness. Ordinary netizens do not have to fear that the online public opinion sphere will lose its vitality because of “rumours”, on the contrary, this environment will guarantee that netizens’ regular discourse channels are smooth. Those who need to worry are those spreading rumours to stir up trouble, because their “rumours” will inevitably be stopped and even punished.