We Want Online Democracy, Not Online “Mass Democracy”

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Originally published in Red Flag Manuscripts on 24 September.

Huang Shengping, Liu Cui

In recent years, following the development and spread of Internet technology, online democracy has gradually entered people’s vision. Even so, some people like online democracy, but others worry. Online democracy can engender positive energy, this has been recognized by the absolute majority of people, but at the same time, the problem of disorderliness exists in online democracy as well, it has become a factor for political upheaval and social chaos, and this cannot but attract our high attention.

I

Generally speaking, Chinese people who have walked down the Fifties and Sixties of the 20th Century, or people who are well acquainted with the repeated political movements after the establishment of the New China, are no strangers to “mass democracy”. What is called mass democracy is a sort of democracy with “speaking out freely”, “airing views fully”, “big character posters” and “mass debate” as the main forms. The source of “airing views and speaking out” is the proverb of letting a hundred schools contend and a hundred flowers bloom, “speaking out freely” refers to the fact that subjects of free expression were broad, its scope is large and its channels many; “airing views fully” refers to opening up so that everything one wants to say can be said; “large character posters” means using a brush to write one’s on thoughts on a large piece of paper, and putting it up outside so the masses can read and comment on it; “mass debate” corresponds to the “small debate” in Western parliaments, it aims to break through the parliamentary democracy system controlled by the elite, and realize direct democracy. In the programmatic document for the “Cultural Revolution”, the “16 Articles”, the “Four Bigs” are described as follows: ” We must fully utilize these forms of large character posters and mass debates, engage in airing of views and speaking out, so that the masses can expound correct viewpoints and criticize mistaken viewpoints”. On the surface, the “four bigs” are for the sake of developing our country’s political democracy, and realizing the people’s mastering their own affairs, but in fact, they have brought major disasters to our country in history. Present-day online posts to a certain extent have inherited some characteristics of large character posters, and in a certain way, they can be called electronic large-character posters. Large character posters mainly have the following three common characteristics.

1: Dissemination of untrue information, upsetting social order. Large character posters do not require facts, they do not require proof, it is only necessary that the person writing a large character posters has an idea, can write it out and wilfully put it up. In the 1957 Anti-Rightist struggle, not a few people became “rightists” because they wrote a large character posters, there were quote a few people who became “rightists because of exposure, criticism of slandering in other people’s large character posters, at that time, there was anxiety in people’s minds up and down the country, they were fearful and restless. Today, anyone can use online platforms to disseminate events and their own viewpoints. Many netizens have put forward pertinent and creative opinions and suggestions that pinpoint present-day problems concerning our country’s social and economic development, but there are also some netizens who wilfully publish relevant information online without verifying it, they disseminate all sorts of improper and mistaken speech, and gravely disorder social order and stability.

2. Infringement of personal privacy and reckless personal attacks. During the “Cultural Revolution” period, some people brazenly revealed other persons’ privacy in large character posters for the sake of venting personal spite or seeking revenge, gravely injuring many decent and innocent people, quite a few people’s families were broken up and its members dispersed, and the whole society was brought to upheaval and unrest. Today, following the application and spread of the network, online privacy infringement has become a prominent problem, it may being people to lose their peaceful state of life, and may cause psychological burdens to people, leading to obstacles in employment, personal undertaking, personal credit and other such aspects, and might even harm personal security. Furthermore, “Qin Huohuo” and his ilk use the network to fabricate rumours, and it may be so that in one night’s time, the honour that a person has gained over a lifetime or the wealth that someone accumulated is destroyed.

3. Taking a part for the whole, confusing public opinion, so that groundless accusations are made, which are purely fictitious. The content of large character posters mostly use only a few isolated words and phrases, they quote out of context, take a part for the whole and use other such means, and they only grasp one point and do not touch upon the rest. Some even are hearsay, groundless accusations, baseless concoctions, that are purely fictitious, they turn the online space into a pestilent atmosphere, they gravely mislead readers, and lead to irreparable wounds in society. These similarities between the online mess and the large character posters of the past cannot but make people feel apprehensive.

II

Online democracy developed into online large character posters in a very short time, which inevitable brought a grave influence onto our country’s society, and even might create grave consequences similar to those that resulted from the large character posters during the “Anti-Rightist” movement and the “Cultural Revolution”. This is decided by the characteristics of the network itself. Concretely speaking:

First, online large character posters are a rapid information dissemination channel. The dissemination channel for large character posters in the past mainly were relatively fixed venues and localities, where large character posters written by brush where put up, and so the amount of information they could make known was limited. The dissemination channel for online large character poster is the increasingly rapidly developing Internet, information is disseminated through mobile telephones, microblogs and other such media, its speed is as fast as the blink of an eye.

Second, the dissemination breadth of online large character posters can be compared to a “chain reaction”. Large character posters of the past mainly relied on transcription for their diffusion, this was realized through ink printing and the distribution of pamphlets, but today’s network has reproduction and reposting functions that not only include writing, but also include pictures of objects, images, videos, etc., consequently they are more prominently open, interactive and convenient, some incidents are posted online in a single day, and can be disseminated in the form of a “chain reaction”. After the “23 July” train incident, “Qin Huohuo” wilfully concocted the rumour that the government spent 200 million Yuan of sky-high compensation for passengers with foreign nationalities, this was reposted 12000 times within two hours, his number of microblog fans increased by 1500, and he provoked dissatisfied emotions of citizens against the government.

Third, the dissemination scope and space of online large character posters are huge. In the past, large character posters were usually put up on specially placed large character poster columns or the walls of buildings, as well as other suitable buildings, their content was often disseminated inside one work unit, one sector, one region or one city; the network is omnipresent, has an extensive coverage and no national boundaries, it can disseminate into every corner in the corner, and can disseminate into all localities in the world, its scope and influence are particularly broad.

Fourth, the identity or name of writers of online large character posters are difficult to check. In the past, large character posters could be signed, unsigned or signed under a different name. But everyone was generally clear in their minds on whether their writer was a work unit or an individual, or whether it was Zhang Three or Li Four. But today, the writers of online large character posters are anonymous, their identity is unclear, if there are no specialized organs, common people basically have no way of checking it, this has greatly reduced the constraints of morality and the law, it has made it easy for netizens to publish biased and irresponsible information, and has aggravated the destructive function of the network. Typical cases in this area are too many to count.

Fifth, online large character posters often show extreme emotionalization and irrationality. In the past, large character posters often criticized from the plane of principle and the two-line struggle, today’s online large character posters’ emotions are even more prejudiced, discourse is even more extreme, often causing a status of extremization in things. On the network, people often see explanations that are absolute and “one-sided”,  and talk that “batters people to death”. At the same time, large amounts of excessively extreme emotional expressions and irrational discourse that is not founded in fact probably makes it impossible for policymakers to maintain rationality in the face of the hubbub of the masses, and so it influences or changes correct policymaking, and greatly influences social justice, fairness as well as administrative efficiency.

III

What must be pointed out especially is that, when looking at the online cases of the past few years, online large character posters have displayed a clear organized characteristic, on the one hand, this is reflected in many specialized companies that are aimed to obtain profit from using the network to fabricate rumours, such as the Beijing Erma Marketing Co. and the Wuhan “100.000 Navy”, etc. On the other hand, it is reflected in the fact that many commercial entities directly or indirectly have a hand in this matter, and that at the same time, quite a few online companies and websites often maintain a high degree of coordination and consistency in their actions, speech and tactics, etc., this cannot but bring people to a high level of vigilance.

The deceptive rumours are more fearsome than tigers. Quite a few people stir up trouble online to pursue commercial profit for themselves and a small number of people. They either have no compunction about playing up themselves online, or endlessly undermine the reputation of others, or manufacture online incidents, inciting netizens’ emptions and sentiments, etc., in the beginning, they fabricated and disseminated rumours for the sake of attracting eyeballs, afterwards, they established commercial entities to enter into this, and conduct large-scale popularization in an organized and planned manner. Li’erchaisi (original name Yang Xiuyu) established an online pushing company, employed an online navy, manipulated online public opinion, played up corresponding persons so they became famous, or created online hot spots within a very short time, he manufactured sensational news, in order to realized his personal objective of winning fame and fortune. After verification, this company was found to have realized a gross income of more than 100 million Yuan in seven years. The Wuhan “100.000 Navy” website relied on fabricating and spreading rumours to pursue millions of profits.

Naturally, there is also an extremely small amount of people with a dark psychology  who rack their brains to use the network to stir up trouble, they conduct all sorts of anti-social, anti-political, anti-system, anti-reform and anti-development activities that violate discipline and violate the law, they use the fabrication and dissemination of online rumours to disintegrate trust, degrade morality, destroy harmony and vainly attempt to “overthrow China by rumour”. Some of them have become used by Western reactionary forces or collude with Western reactionary forces, with opposing Socialism with Chinese characteristics and subverting the People’s Republic of China as their common scheme, this sort of phenomenon must attract our great vigilance.

Our country’s online democracy is still at a preliminary stage, its development and perfection are a very long process, this is a process of gradual advance, it requires common efforts from the State, society and individuals. Recently, the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate issued the “Interpretation concerning Some Issues of Applicable Law when Handling Criminal Cases of Using Information Networks to Commit Slander”, which has laid down clear legal boundaries for words and deeds online, and furthermore, has unsheathed a sharp sword against the use of the network to conduct slander and other such illegal and criminal acts. We must consciously strengthen our notion of the law, sincerity and honesty, use the network according to the law, and jointly create a vigorous and healthy online sphere.

(The authors’ work units are the Jiangsu Province Wuxi City People’s Congress Standing Committee New District Work Committee and the Jiangsu Province Wuyue Culture Research Institute)

要网络民主,不要网络“大民主”
近年来,随着互联网技术的发展与普及,网络民主逐渐进入人们的视野。然而,对于网络民主,有人欢喜有人忧。网络民主能产生正能量,这已被大多数人所认可,但与此同时,网络民主也存在失序的问题,从而成为政治动荡、社会混乱的因素,不能不引起我们的高度重视。

大凡从20世纪五六十年代走过来的中国人,或者熟悉新中国成立以来历次政治运动的人们,对“大民主”并不陌生。所谓大民主,就是以“大鸣”、“大放”、“大字报”、“大辩论”为主要方式的一种民主。“鸣放”来源于成语百家争鸣、百花齐放,“大鸣”是指言论自由的主体广、范围大、渠道多;“大放”是指放开来想说什么就说什么;“大字报”,是把自己的观点用毛笔写在一张大纸上,张贴在外面让群众观看、评论;“大辩论”,对应于西方议会的“小辩论”,要突破精英控制的代议民主制,实现直接民主。在 “文化大革命”的纲领性文件《十六条》中对“四大”有这样的表述:“要充分运用大字报、大辩论这些形式,进行大鸣大放,以便群众阐明正确的观点,批判错误的意见”。表面上“四大”是为发展我国的政治民主,实现人民当家作主,但实际上却在历史上使我国遭受重大灾难。现今的网帖在一定程度上继承了大字报的某些特质,从某种意义上可称为电子版的大字报。主要来说,大字报有以下三个共性特点:

1.散布不实信息,扰乱社会秩序。大字报不要事实,不要证据,只要写大字报的人有想法就可以写出来进行随意张贴。1957年的反右斗争中,有不少人因写大字报而成了“右派”,也有不少人因被别人的大字报揭发、批判、污蔑而成了“右派”,当时全国上下人心惶惶,惶恐不安。今天,任何人都可以利用网络平台发布事件和自己的观点。许多网民确实对我国社会经济发展提出了中肯、针砭时弊、有创造性的意见和建议,但是也有的网民在网络上未经核实就随意发布有关信息、散布种种不端和错误言论,严重影响了社会的有序和稳定。

2.侵犯个人隐私,恣意人身攻击。“文革”期间,有的人为了泄私愤、图报复,在大字报上肆无忌惮地曝光他人隐私,严重伤害了很多善良无辜的人,不少人被弄得妻离子散、家破人亡,整个社会被搞得动荡不安。如今,随着网络的应用与普及,网络侵犯隐私也成为一个突出的问题,它可以让人失去宁静的生活状态,也可以给人造成心理负担,导致就业、个人事业、个人信用等方面的障碍,甚至危及人身安全。更有甚者,“秦火火”们利用网络造谣,可以在一夜之间将一个人用一辈子赢得的荣誉、积累的财富毁掉。

3.以偏概全、混淆视听,以致捕风捉影,无中生有。大字报的内容,大多采用只言片语,断章取义、以偏概全等手法,抓住一点、不及其余。有的甚至是道听途说、捕风捉影、凭空臆造、无中生有,把网络空间搞得乌烟瘴气,给读者造成严重误导,给社会酿成无法弥补的戕伤。这些网络乱象与过去的大字报何其相似,不能不使人感到担忧。

网络民主一旦发展成网络大字报,必将对我国社会造成严重的影响,甚至有可能造成类似“反右”和“文革”中大字报所造成的严重后果。这是由网络自身的特点所决定的。具体说来:

首先,网络大字报信息发布途径快捷。当年的大字报发布的途径主要是在相对固定的场所和区域,用毛笔撰写大字报进行张贴来发布的,其反映的信息量相对有限。而网络大字报发布信息的途径是日趋快速发展的互联网,通过手机、微博等传播媒介发布信息,其速度之快就在弹指一瞬间。

第二,网络大字报的传播扩散堪称“核裂变”式。当年的大字报对外扩散主要是靠转载抄写、油墨打印和通过印发传单的形式实现的,而今天的网络具有的复制转发功能,不仅是文字,还包括实物图片、影像视频等,因而具有更加突出的开放性、交互性、便捷性,某些事件一旦在网络发布,可以形成“核裂变”似的扩散。“7·23”动车事件后,“秦火火”故意捏造政府花2亿元天价赔偿外籍旅客的谣言,2小时内就被转发1.2万次,其微博粉丝也增加了1500多个,挑动了民众对政府的不满情绪。

第三,网络大字报的传播范围和空间巨大。当年的大字报通常张贴在专门搭建的大字报栏或房屋的墙面以及其他适合张贴的建筑物,其内容传播常常在某一个单位,某一个行业,某一个地区,某一个城市;而网络却是全方位、广覆盖、无国界,它可以传播到国内每个角落,还可以传递到世界各地,范围和影响特别广。

第四,网络大字报的作者身份和署名难以核查。当年的大字报可以署名,也可以不署名,或者化名。但大字报的作者是单位还是个人,是张三还是李四,大家心中一般是清楚的。但在今天,写网络大字报的作者往往是匿名的,身份不清楚,如果不是专门机关,一般人根本无法查对,这就大大降低了道德和法律的约束力,使网民易发布偏颇且不负责任的讯息,从而加重了网络的破坏作用。这方面的典型案例不胜枚举。

第五,网络大字报往往表现出极端情绪化和非理性。当年的大字报常常上纲上线,今天的网络大字报情绪更加偏执、言论更加极端,每每造成事物的极端化状态。在网络上,人们常常看到说事绝对“一面倒”,论人总往“死里打”。同时,大量的过度的极端情绪化的表达和不基于事实的非理性言论,很可能让决策者在人声鼎沸的公众面前无法保持理性,从而影响或改变正确决策,极大地影响社会公正、公平以及行政效率。

特别需要指出的是,从近几年的网络案件看,网络大字报显现了明显的组织化特点,一方面体现在许多旨在利用网络造谣获利的专业公司,如北京尔玛营销策划公司,武汉“十万水军”等。另一方面体现在众多商业机构直接或间接参与其事,同时不少网络公司、网站常常在行为、话语策略等方面高度协调一致,这不能不使人高度警惕。

谣言惑众猛于虎。不少人搞网络滋事是为了追求个人和少数人的商业利润。他们或者在网络上不知羞耻地炒作自己,或者无端败坏他人名誉,或者制造网络事件,煽动网民情绪、情感等等,他们刚开始造谣传谣是为了吸引眼球,继而成立商业机构参与进来,有组织有计划地进行大规模的推广。立二拆四(原名杨秀宇)成立的网络推手公司,雇佣网络水军,操纵网络舆论,或者将相关人物炒成名人,或者短时间内营造网络热点,制造轰动新闻,以实现个人名利双收的目的。经查实,该公司七年实现毛收入1000余万元。武汉“十万水军”网站靠造谣传谣年牟利超百万元。

当然,也有极少数心理阴暗的人,他们费尽心机利用网络滋事,进行各种反社会、反政府、反体制、反改革、反发展的违纪违法活动,利用网络造谣传谣,瓦解诚信,沉沦道德,破坏和谐,妄图“谣翻中国”。他们有的已经为西方反动势力所利用,或者和西方反动势力沆瀣一气,以共同图谋反对中国特色社会主义、颠覆中华人民共和国,这种现象必须引起我们的高度警惕。

我国的网络民主还处于初级阶段,其发展与完善是一个漫长的过程,也是一个渐进的过程,需要国家、社会和个人的共同努力。近日,最高人民法院、最高人民检察院发布《关于办理利用信息网络实施诽谤等刑事案件适用法律若干问题的解释》,既是为网络言行划定了明晰的法律边界,更是向利用网络进行诽谤等违法犯罪行为亮出了利剑。我们要自觉增强法律观念,诚实守信,依法上网,共同营造积极健康的网络空间。

(作者单位:江苏省无锡市人大常委会新区工作委员会;江苏省吴越文化研究院)

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