People’s Daily official on anti-rumour campaign and online public opinion management
This article by Zhu Huaxin, the director of the People’s Daily Public Opinion Monitoring Unit, was published in People’s Daily last Friday, 11 September. In this article, Zhu takes stock of the recent crackdown on rumours online, noting that the fact that a number of well-known online celebrities have been targeted signifies the end of an era of government passivity in the face of the online sphere, and a renewed initiative to bring this under control. The recent Judicial Interpretation that provides for stronger criminal sanctions for online rumours one part of this, but according to Zhu, much more work remains: legal rules are necessary for citizen journalists and rights-defence websites, for use of social media by journalists, for online anti-corruption activities and for the interaction between online public opinion and the real world. In Zhu’s words: China’s microblogs aren’t Hyde Park. His conclusions from the online are: that pundit Big Vs are disappearing, and being replaced by more specialist Big Vs; it is necessary to protect the right of the common people to express their opinions; “micro-public good” activities must be protected and the problems in the media marketing industry must be resolved.
At the same time, Zhu also strongly takes local governments to task for failing to engage in a constructive manner with the legitimate demands of the social public. Exhorting the powers that be to manage and treat the Internet kindly, he argues that it is better to forestall rumours and anxieties by open communication with society and effective provision of public services. He refers to a number of recent incidents where aggrieved petitioners committed bombing and arson attacks after they had spent years trying to have their complaints heard. To this end, he advocates a pragmatic position, aimed at differentiating tactics to account for different social groups, different communication channels and different purposes. In other words, Zhu warns against the excessive use of blunt force on the Internet, when the objective of online harmony and development might be better achieved through more pragmatic and co-operative means.
Zhu Huaxin: The Online Public Opinion Structure Against the Background of the Attack on Rumours
On 25 August 2013, the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau announced that: the police have arrested a certain Xue (male, 60) who visited prostitutes and a prostitute in Anhui Beili, and placed them under administrative detention according to the law. Mr Xue was in fact the online celebrity Xue Manzi, who has 12 million fans. Since opening a microblog on 8 September 2010, he posted 79 microblogs on average per day, the majority of which were discussions of current affairs, and quite a few of them were critical of the government. CCTV’s “News Broadcast” programme exceptionally used three minutes of time to expose Xue Manzi’s misdeeds. The Weibo Big Vs who “pointed to mountains and rivers, flushed away mud and brought in fresh water with our words, and saw the high and mighty as muck” suddenly walked into the dusk.
Before dawn on 10 September, the Yunnanese online celebrity “Bianmin” was arrested by the police, the reason being that he was suspected of falsely reporting registered capital. “Bianmin” had been very lively in relation to the “hide and seek” incident, the primary school prostitution incident and other such online hot spots. After the “hide and seek” incident occurred in the beginning of 2009, the Yunnan Provincial Committee Propaganda Department organized a survey of netizens, which became the precursor to “online accountability”. The difference with the Beijing Big V was that “Bianmin” rarely indulged in pontificating about ideology, but aimed to inquire about the truth of hot spots and incidents.
The arrest of “Bianmin” signifies the end of an era.
In the past few years, the keywords in the Internet space were “online accountability”, and salvaging “sunken voices”. In order to change the situation that government work online often found itself under a “surrounding gaze”, “government affairs microblogs” came to the fore, striving to respond to “netizens’ concerns”.
Starting from late August this year, keywords in the Internet sphere are written all over: fabricating and disseminating rumours, trying to pick quarrels, exposing and criticising Big Vs, public order punishment and criminal detention. The government changes passiveness into activity, called for the launch of an online “public opinion struggle”, to dare to “uncover the sword”, and to closely grasp the “leadership power, management power and discourse power” in ideological work.
The background of this transformation of hot terms is that, from Internet management to social management, a number of new concepts, ways of thinking and structures are currently being shaped, which will deeply influence the communication and interaction between the public and the government, and the interest games between different social groups. The sudden eruption of public power, and its fierce use, has made quite a few leading cadres feel excited about recovering “lost ground”, and at the same time, has caught unaware the netizens who were used to “spit out comments”, and especially the “opinion leaders” who had over the past few years come to seem themselves as being very good and swept across microblogs “like emperors reviewing memorials”.
Public power “unsheathes the sword”: the boundaries of the system
On 9 September, the “Supreme People’s Court and Supreme People’s Procuratorate Judicial Interpretation Concerning Some Questions of Applicable Law in Handling the Use of Information Networks to Commit Defamation and Other Such Criminal Cases” was published, which was immediately enthusiastically endorsed by grass-roots cadres.
The Judicial Interpretation’s interpretation of online criminal blackmail was not contested. What netizens paid attention to was that the Judicial Interpretation quantified the constitutive element of criminal defamation, being “where the same defaming information’s real hit rate or browsing rate reaches 5000 or more; or where the same defaming information’s real reposting rate reached 500 or more.” Criminal online provocation triggered even more heated debate among netizens. The Judicial Interpretation said: “Where false information is fabricated or where it is clearly known that false information has been fabricated, and disseminated on information networks, or other persons are organized or instructed to disseminate it on information networks, to stir up trouble, and this results in grave upsets of public order, this constitutes the crime of provocation”
The Internet is not an area outside of the law, netizens are not people beyond civilization, and they should be subject to constraints of law, public order and good custom. False information aimed at government affairs is reported quite often. But false information is not limited to current affairs and news, the use of Snowball Net, stock bars and other interactive communities to obtain profit from releasing capital market information has become a chronic illness, companies going on the market can only post clear announcements to declare that their record is clean, but that is often already too late, and losses are disastrous. Quite a few traded companies, funds and securities traders have claimed that it is also necessary to “arrest the Qin Huohuos on the capital market”. The China Securities Regulatory Commission already reported in 2012 about a number of cases where false online information upset capital markets. Article 78 of the “Securities Law” prohibits “State personnel, media employees and relevant persons to fabricate and disseminate false information and upset securities markets”, but there has been a lack of attack strength for a long time, the publication of the Two Supremes’ Judicial Interpretation undoubtedly brings timely help.
Administrative management and legal punishment of online rumours still contains a few prominent issues that must be standardized:
First, there is the legality of “independent investigative journalists”. Following the arrival of Internet mass microphone era”, netizens can publish information about the scene of sudden incidents, express their interests and appeals, and thereby become so-called “citizen reporters” and “citizen journalists”. If this is only what the person in question sees and hears or their appeals, as long as it seeks truth from facts, it should be tolerated. The problem is that in the past few years, so-called “independent investigative reporters” have emerged whose business is “explosive material” and rights defence on behalf of others. The General Administration of Press, Publications, Radio, Film and Television has strictly managed journalist cards for newsgathering and editing qualifications, so they don’t have journalist cards, but they haunt the scene of all kinds of sudden incidents, they lack the constraint of strict newsgathering, editing and manuscript submission workflows in traditional media, they lack mechanisms of media prestige being constrained by distribution rates or viewing rates, and also are not subject to the jurisdiction of press and propaganda management structures, but they also bring in improper commercial interests. There is no lack of rows of “independent investigative reporters” who have conned their way in by extortion and blackmail.
Second, there is the legality of popular rights-defence websites and public opinion supervision websites. The “Internet News Information Service Management Regulations” of 2005 permit news work units to establish news websites that have the same newsgathering and editing powers as the original media; commercial portal websites can only reprint news information disseminated by central news work units or provincial, autonomous region or municipal news work units, they may not publish news information that they have gathered and edited themselves. Here, news information refers to “current affairs-type news information, including reporting and comments concerning political, economic, military, foreign affairs and other such social and public matters, as well as reporting and comments concerning sudden social incidents.”
Where the people establish rights defence websites or public opinion supervision websites on their own initiatives, although they have ICP permits, they do not have current affairs newsgathering and editing qualifications, furthermore, hey don’t even have the qualifications to reprint current affairs-type news information that commercial portal websites have. But they are committed to gathering and propagating current affairs-type negative news and hearsay on a large scale. Rights defence website perhaps truly want to help grass-roots common people to defend their rights, but they may also organise blackmail or swindle. The “15 March” incident of last year was reported by media, a young lad from outside ran two rights defence websites in Beijing, and hired staff to collect negative news and hearsay concerning governments and enterprises, put it up online, and subsequently, called those governmental departments and enterprises to blackmail them, demanding fees to erase the posts, and he actually bought property to setup his business in Beijing within less than two years.
Third, there are journalists uncovering material on online “self-media”. When journalists use the conveniences of their positions to write up inside news, can they uncover these materials on BBSs, microblogs, blogs and other self-media without permission from the medium? Even though their uncovering these materials is a completely individual act, but in light of their professional fame, it is difficult to avoid that the media they serve are the “endorsement” of the uncovered material. The People’s Daily, CCTV and other such news media have formulated provisions such as journalist self-media use rules, all journalists and anchors with V-certified media identities must file for approval with their work unit, and they must be responsible to their media for their posts.
Fourth, there is the legal definition of online anti-corruption. Some netizens suspect that the “Two Supremes'” Judicial Interpretation aims to contain the upsurge of online anti-corruption that emerged after the 18th Party Congress. The Supreme People’s Court news spokesperson clearly said that: where the broad netizens inform on and expose other persons’ acts violating laws or disciplines through information networks, relevant departments shall be responsible for verification and timely publish the verification results. Even if a part of the informed or exposed content is wrong, as long as there is no wilful concocting of facts to defame others, or they are not clearly known to be facts concocted to harm another persons’ reputation, and these are disseminated online, criminal liability for criminal defamation shall not be pursued.
Online anti-corruption fits in with the strong conviction of the Party and the Government to oppose corruption and advocate clean government. But whenever leading cadres are shown to smoke a packet of expensive cigarettes or wear an expensive watch, they are immediately determined to be corrupt officials, in the face of overwhelming accusations by millions of netizens with Big Vs with hundreds of thousands of fans on their side, they are unable to prove their innocence, this can also not be said to be a healthy phenomenon. Online anti-corruption is easily used for commercial blackmail and ferocious battles in officialdom, last year, the “Chengdu Family Planning Commission Office Director” microblog exposed corruption itself, and afterwards, it was ascertained that this was an act of jealousy among official colleagues.
Online anti-corruption urgently requires boundaries to the rights of honest and upright officials, netizens and online. Because officials control the power to allocate social resources, it is necessary to transfer the right to know to the public and the right to supervise to the media, but it must also be made clear that some powers should be respected and protected by other persons. Where is the boundary between netizens exposing untrue information and malicious defamation? Even if there is no subjective malice, exposing inaccurate materials brings injury to officials and their family members, so which legal, economic and moral liability should the exposers should bear? From the point of view of the “Tort Liability Law” that took effect on 1 July 2010, microblogs, forums, social media websites and other self-media platforms have joint liability for netizens’ infringement of other persons’ right to reputation.
Fifth is the offline boundary of online public opinion. In the past few years, some “skinhead” netizens are no longer satisfied with “spitting out” online, they believe in “repeated shouting is not as good as standing in the streets”, threatening social stability.
The strength of online accountability can only correspond to the entire country’s social management system. Even with the support of new communication technology, the Internet cannot become an “enclave” from the country’s social, cultural and political domain. China’s 591 million netizens, and especially intellectual netizens who regularly speak out on public affairs, are the beneficiaries of the country’s informatization strategy. But the Chinese people who “surged” up first should not have the wrong impression about national conditions and the system, and mistakenly believe that China’s microblogs are England’s Hyde Park.
The changes on the Internet since August, has ruthlessly made the high rise of those netizens who sailed their boats across the teeth of the storm, come crashing down to earth. Where once we believed we had built a Babylonian tower reaching up to the heavens, we suddenly turned around and discovered that we are still arduously climbing the slopes of modernization.
The direction of China’s reform and opening up has been established as early as the 3rd Plenum of the 11th Party Congress of 1978, but moving reform forward requires perseverance, firmness and enterprise. In 1992, Comrade Deng Xiaoping pointed out that China at that time was only in the primary stage of Socialism, and this stage required passing through the hard work of generations, ten generations or even dozens of generations. The generations, ten generations or even dozens of generations, naturally include netizens.
Online turmoil, a trilogy of governance
China’s online public opinion sphere was originally created through intense expressions and protesting voices, it was only the content of the expressions that caused people to like it sometimes, and fear it at other times.
The first current affairs forum set up inland was the People’s Daily Online Strong Nation Forum, which was established on 9 May 1999, the day after NATO savagely bombed China’s embassy in Yugoslavia, at that time, it was called the “BBS Forum to Strongly Protest NATO’s Savage Act”, it changed to its current name on 19 June.
More often, the online public opinion sphere “spat out” or even “cursed” about issues concerning the domestic common people’s livelihoods and individual rights guarantees, through venting critical thoughts and emotions with humour and abuse, glorious aspirations were placed on individual prospects and the prospects of the country, or there was wishful thinking.
The barrier between the official and popular “two public opinion spheres” is becoming more prominent every day. Government shoulders the heavy burden of the real national circumstances and the existing structure of interests, and the netizens who demand immediate change can always occupy the moral high ground. The common people cannot understand the complete complexity of public administration by the government, and easily sees the government as being an institutional obstacle to their beautiful lives, and consequently, negative rumours or even malicious guesses that are not beneficial to the government can always spread rapidly online and attract a sympathetic response. Then, a number of government departments may easily come to see the common people who bring appeals as a potential adversary in stability preservation, and they will tend to control and suppress netizens’ expressions of opinion instead of listening attentively and settling matters. This has even more aggravated the confrontational emotions between government and netizens.
On the issue of sudden incidents and sensitive topics, and in relation to netizens’ doubts and even some provocative statements, governments must first and foremost do news publishing well, and forcefully handle government affairs openness. Second, it is necessary that press and propaganda departments patiently do persuasion and interpretation work well. Only under circumstances where these two points do not have effect, and in relation to some unlawful words and deeds that harm real social order, is it necessary to adopt forcible measures. If the former two work points are skirted, and policemen are directly ordered to rush in front of propaganda departments, the police may be suspected of exceeding their station, and press and propaganda departments may be seen as acting as a lazy government.
In June 2009, a “stuck cobalt-60 source” accident happened in Qi County, Henan, and the local government adopted the policy of the three noes: no reporting of the situation, no acceptance of interviews, and no permission of reporting. After they concealed it for more than a month, a rumour madly circulated: a radiation source was about to explode, and once it would explode, all males in the entire country would lose their reproductive ability. On 17 July, masses from the entire county successively drove their cars, tractors and tricycles to flee to neighbouring counties, on the basis of the emergence of a “groundless fear”. Afterwards, the local government announced that “the arrest of five rumourmongers concerning the Qi County cobalt-60 incident”, one of them was a netizen who had been arrested in the past for reposting false information.
On this day when Qi County became a deserted city, Internet management department cadres suggested that the People’s Daily write a comment, to criticize the grass-roots government for nit having been able to earnestly implement the “Government Information Openness Regulations”. The People’s Daily “People’s News Commentary” warned: “it seems as if rumours are the main cause triggering large-scale social panics, but their background is in fact the aphasia of local information dissemination and the lack of credibility this caused.”
In June 2011, what was suspected to be ticks appeared in Changping District, Beijing, but this did not trigger social panic, because the local government frankly and sincerely faced the public’s questions, it confirmed the facts about ticks biting pets from the first moment, and at the same time cleared up that case of illness due to bites of humans had emerged, but it also earned the citizens to pay attention to preventing ticks, and earnestly promised it would continue to supervise ticks. Such declarations and measures were a complete case of fearing what the population fears, thinking what the population thinks, and the citizens had no reasons to distrust the sincerity and governing ability of the government.
On 18 September of this year, Premier Li Keqiang chaired a meeting of the State Council Standing Council, which research and deployed the further strengthening of government information openness work, demanded a vigorous response and clearing up of misunderstandings and doubts with relation to major public sentiments and social hot topics, and to pay attention to merging the popular masses’ expectations into government policymaking and work; as well as to ensure transparency of economic and social government policies and transparency of the use of power, to let the people be able to see and hear matters, and enable them to supervise.
The Secretary of the Central Discipline Inspection Committee Wang Qishan stressed when researching the construction of the website of the Central Discipline Inspection Committee Supervision Department: we must vigorously and actively respond to and guide public opinion, important public sentiments must be discovered early, reported early and dealt with early. Understand and collect social sentiments and public feelings, unblock supervision channels, and give rein to a good social supervision function. Chief Secretary of the Central Discipline Inspection Committee Cui Shaopeng revealed in an online interview: when conditions are ripe, this website will also prepare opening an official microblog, Wechat and other new media applications.
The basic path to connect the official and popular “two public opinion spheres” is to have government information openness on relevant issues of public interest, and reduce information asymmetry between officials and the people. The “People’s Commentary” “What Will End the Myth of ‘Online Rumours'” published by People’s Daily used the rumour formula of the communications scholar Chorus: rumours = importance of an event x ambiguity of an event / ability for public criticism, this indicates how large the energy of a rumour is, depends on the transparency of real information, and depends on the level of public judgment.
The Shanghai Jiaotong University professor Zhang Guoliang further expanded the formula of rumours to be: the speed of gossip=the importance of the event x the ambiguity of the situation x the advancedness of technology / authoritative government credibility / citizens’ power of judgment. Professor Zhang paid attention to two other factors: the more developed media technology is, the stronger the communication power of rumours (or unverified gossip) becomes; the lower government credibility is, the more rumours have a market.
In preventing rumours, it is impossible to close new technological mediums (perhaps there are some officials who have such expectations deeply in their hearts), what must be done to forcefully repair and reactivate government credibility.
The public opinion ecology: Internet “vegetation”
When observing and evaluating the progress and effects of the last month of concentrated attack on online rumours, the following conclusions can be made:
First, current affairs-type Big Vs have collectively withdrawn, Big Vs with a specialist background have risen.
Outside of, art and sports stars, among microblog current affairs-type Big Vs, there are many writers on various subjects, and many who speak out across subject boundaries. For example, Xue Manzi, an expert in venture capital, posted about broad content, very little was originally created, most of it consisted of reposts. This sort of Big V may certainly be concerned for human affairs, for example, Xue Manzi sponsored aid to a girl suffering from leukaemia, Luo Ruoqing, but the majority of his views on public affairs directly conveyed feelings, or consisted of irresponsible talk. Now, in a period of social transition, many complex issues and contradictions come together, there is a need for specialist judgment, rational consideration, and balancing of interest. We cannot be as given to fighting as “Fang Hei” and “Han Hei” in the “Fang-Han Battle”.
Current affairs-type Big Vs have withdrawn en masse, from one angle, that does not mean that “public opinion froth” has not been forcibly pushed out, even though the methods were a bit rough. A small number of intellectual netizens who wallowed in romantic emotions, had restless spirits and tended to extremes also needed to consider how they are able to promote smooth transformation in society, otherwise, being swept into online public opinion and government policymaking is very dangerous. At present, the famous netizen and Chinese Academy of Social Science scholar Yu Jianrong took the initiative to run off to Guizhou to become the assistant of a township head, to experience the difficulties of grass-roots government. This sort of action benefits intellectuals’ taking the pulse of national conditions more accurately, and by the time they discuss political affairs on microblogs again, they will bring a simplicity and tenacity from the soil.
In the future, Big Vs with a specialist background will rise up. For example, @Zhan Jiang, @Du Junfei, @Zhang Zhi’an, @Wuda Shenyang in the news and communications area; @Yi Peng in the economic sphere; politico-legal accounts such as @Guangdong Zhengfa, @Yunnan Provincial People’s Procuratorate and @Enshi Prefecture Intermediate People’s Court; young research experts such as @Sun Yunxiao; @Dan Zhiqiang and @Zhang Zhaoyong in the area of cultural geography and ethnology, etc., will gain the rational identification of netizens with their firm specialist background and academic analysis, and they will not only “attract eyeballs” like Big Vs before. Public power is suggested to provide more tolerance to “expert discussion on politics”. The intellectual policy baseline established at the 3rd Plenum of the 11th Party Congress must be maintained. After the “Cultural Revolution”, Deng Xiaoping put forward “respecting knowledge, respecting talent”; Hu Yaobang proposed “full confidence, giving a free hand in use”. To do modernization, we must respect intellectuals and cherish intellectuals, we cannot stand opposed to them. This is one of our basic national policies.
Second, it is urgently necessary to tolerate and protect grass roots netizens’ expression of opinions.
I remember that At the end of the Eighties of the last century, the aesthetic scholar Li Zehou sighed: if we wipe away this generation of scholars of ours, before a decade, a new generation of scholars will rise up, the one thing China does not lack, is talent. Even the Big Vs who have borne the brunt of this dealing with the Internet have completely disappeared, and their influence on the online public opinion ecology is extremely limited as well. But grass roots netizens are much more valuable for the public opinion ecology and the overall ecology of society.
In a period of social transition, the legal system is insufficiently complete, traditional media pay more attention to public opinion guidance, and their public opinion guidance function may weaken, some grass-roots masses use the Internet to call for help and cry out in circumstances where they lack other ways for rights and remedies. For example, in 2009, the Henan peasant Zhang Haichao’s tuberculosis entered the terminal stage, but because his original work unit refused to provide certification, he was unable to obtain a diagnosis result from a statutory organ, and was forced to “open his chest to test his lungs” alive. After this matter was reported in the media, a surging tide of online public opinion arose. In the end, Zhang Haichao obtained compensation and resolved his baseline insurance issues. The NPC Standing Committee revised the “Occupational Illness Prevention and Care Law” This extreme case indicates that the Internet is a real channel for grass-roots common people to “call to Heaven for their rights”, this not only requires a high level of attention, but also a spirit of reverence.
In the “trans-provincial arrest” case of the netizen Wang Shuai in Lingbao, Henan, the People’s Daily Net Public Opinion Monitor Unit and the “Strong Nation” forum jointly organized four interviews, which facilitated the released of Wang Shuai. One netizen wrote in a post: “A few local officials believe themselves to be beyond the reach of the authorities, they think of themselves as the most important person under heaven, they do as they please and they desire, they tyrannize the common people, and these local officials must especially be reminded to firmly keep in mind: China’s common people only need to lightly touch a computer mouse, and they are together with the General Secretary. This sort of heroic perception clearly shows feelings and remains unforgettable.
After undergoing many years of sustained high-speed economic growth, the general picture of Chinese politics is stable, under this presupposition, it must also be considered that all kinds of social contradictions are accumulating and piling up, they are gradually moving towards an ignition point. The Internet is the air vent hole and safety valve for China’s society. Why fear that the calls of grass-roots people are extreme calls, set them free, they benefit higher-level governments and the entire society to discover grass roots problems, timely resolve them, avoid the expansion of small matters and the explosion of large matters.
Some bombing cases occurred over the last few years, in which the parties had earlier used the Internet to express their appeals. Before the triple bombing of the district government, the district court and the district Procuratorate occurred in Fuzhou, Jiangxi, the evictee Chen Minqi had opened four microblog accounts in one go to air his grievances; in the Xiamen BRT arson case, Chen Shuizong had used microblogs to record the hardships of changing his birth year when arranging for social security, he had gone to the local police station 22 times but returned without results; in regard to his alleged being beaten cripple by the Dongguan public order team, the Shandong peasant Ji Zhongxing had lamented in his last blog post before going to bomb Beijing Airport Terminal 3 in his wheelchair: “I call upon heaven, heaven does not respond; I call upon the earth, the earth does not respond.”
The criminal acts of these three people must be severely condemned, the still-alive Ji Zhongxing will be punished by law, but the entire society must also seriously reflect on why they embarked on a path of indiscriminate violence and crime. After Qian Mingqi’s bombing case, Phoenix Satellite Television anchor Lüqiu Luwei opened her own microblog, and astonishingly discovered that in the days before, he had reposted one of her own posts, “after becoming aware of this, my spine went cold, among those thousands of comments, we cannot know whether there was a voice that came from this person who would pass away in this manner, and prepared for death, he had not been listened to for a lifetime”, until those three loud bangs.
What is even more important than Big Vs sinking or swimming, is protecting the grass-roots common people’s online right of expression, and relieving social pressure. The public opinion environment in a period of social transition is intricate and complex, the masses are extremely sensitive about issues such as education, employment, healthcare, housing, ecology, the environment, food security, etc., and it dissatisfaction is easily triggered by these issues of real interests, and rapid social change engenders irrational mentalities. With regard to harmful social emotions, we must vigorously conduct persuasion, dispel doubts and misunderstandings, resolve contradictions, rationalize emotions, and balance feelings. If governments would be a bit more sincere and humble with regards to public opinion, our system would be a lot more flexible and strong.
Third, encourage and protect “micro-public good” netizens.
The journalist Deng Fei shifted from investigative reporting about “uncovering the black” to “micro-public good”, including the Weibo anti-human trafficking campaign, free lunches and insurance for serious illness. Deng Fei’s transformation brought great inspiration to young netizens. From criticizing society and criticizing the government, online “angry youth”-type cynicism and misanthropy transformed into constructive attitudes to improve society, and resolve all sorts of basic livelihood issues in cooperation with the government. This has been very important for the moulding of the new generation’s national character and the optimization of social psychology.
Fourth, resolve and support the social media marketing industry.
The online pusher “Li’erchaisi” (Yang Xiuyu) who was arrested this time engaged in social media marketing. He boosted the fame of the online celebrity “Tianxian Meimei” from the Aba Qiang prefecture, which fell under harmless online operations; his plan to “wipe out Wanglaoji” after the Wenchuan earthquake was also classical marketing. Afterwards, he pandered to online “hard-core tastes”, he packaged “Gan Lulu”, and concocted false news, bringing him onto an evil path. But we cannot because of this kill off with one blow interactive marketing that is based on online communities, including character marketing, story marketing and topical marketing.
Marketing companies have registered large amounts of sock puppets and repost posts in association with Big Vs, this is similar to celebrity advertising, it can rapidly increase the fame of a product and stimulate the product’s sales, as long as this does not involve false advertising, even if people don’t like it, it is not unlawful.
Social media marketing on Internet platforms is a part of the creative and marketing industries, the fourth industries, the view of a home village society should not be used to tarnish its reputation. If the “crime of illegal business” in the “Two Supremes'” Interpretation would be defined as being organized and for the purpose of profit, and the element of “disordering market order” would be overlooked, it would easily bring accidental injury to the burgeoning social media marketing sector.
The netizen “Onions Aren’t Cadres” sighed: “people who are still petitioning believe in the government, and people who are still online believe in the law.” Public power must kindly manage the Internet, and must treat the Internet kindly as well. Although dynamic netizens cannot represent the will of the whole body of citizens, because they are good at expression, they have become a kind of wind vane for social situations and the people’s will.
Treating the Internet kindly means cherishing society’s “vegetation”. In a wasteland without vegetation, people’s hearts desertify easily, and the smell of gunpowder can be smelled in the air. Tolerating the different interests and appeals of different social groups on the Internet means invigorating the blood of China’s society and enlivening the organism of the nation by concentrating a consensus among plural noises. The scholar Xiao Shu analysed: in the microblog age, if every common person conducts the broadest attention and the broadest participation in public affairs that they can, and proposes a civilized civil life through self-governance and cooperation, this benefits enhancing the public rationality of the whole society, the formation of social consensus, and the formation of a firm social chassis.
A slogan on a village wall that circulated online has told the secrets in the hearts of a number of officials: “Don’t fabricate rumours, don’t spread rumours, the government’s explanation is the only basis”. This sort of extremely conceited and autocratic attitude runs counter to the “Socialist consultative democracy” advocated in the 18th Party Congress: “The Socialist cooperative democracy is an important form of our country’s people’s democracy. Realize the organic integration of government management and grass-roots democracy. In town, country and community governance, grass-roots public affairs and public interest undertakings, implement mass self-management, self-service, self-education and self-supervision. Take broad and orderly participation, promotion of information openness, strengthening of official matters consultation and strengthening power supervision as focus points.” The Internet is a platform for orderly participation and consultative democracy.
Ideology: tongues and fists
In this campaign to attack online rumours, all localities governments have shown their colours clearly, dared to “unsheathe the sword”, and effectively resisted malicious rumour mongering and extreme discourse online, but some errors have occurred in grass-roots law enforcement: netizens wrongly reported the number of people killed in a traffic accident, and were arrested by the police for fabricating rumours. Here, it is the public security bureau in Dangshan County, Anhui, who just apologised and released people, there, it is the public security bureau in Wudangshan, Hubei, who release arrested people again.
A female netizen from Qinghe, Hubei posted: “I heard that a murder happened in Lou Village, who knows the truth?” She was then placed under administrative detention for five days.
When netizens asked for the publishing of water monitoring reports, the Hydropower and Water Bureau in Jianshi County, Hubei responded: “a complete and truthful report” will be made in the near future, if some people wilfully distort facts, “online ‘Qin Huohuos’ will be the most vivid lesson”.
The biggest dispute happened in Zhangjiachuan, Gansu, after the unnatural death of a male, a sixteen year-old secondary school student called the inside story of the death case online, his post was reposted more than 500 times, and he was put under criminal detention, being suspected of the crime of provocation.
Although the police released him afterwards and said that they arrested him because he was suspected of inciting a demonstration, media reports stated that the demonstration was initiated voluntarily by the relatives of the deceased person, and this was unrelated to the secondary school student. Under public opinion pressure, the police withdrew the case and released the person. With regard to this first case of criminal detention of a “rumourmonger” for “being reposted more than 500 times”, the central focus news website Guangming Net stated: can it be achieved that law enforcement does not neglect things, not frames people, not wilfully expands the scope of applicable law, and does not use the law as a tool for stability maintenance? The Shanxi public security office’s vice-head Chen Li, who has more than 14 million followers, stated sincerely: “the child was still young, the path of a human life is long, every case is different, there should be moderation between lenience and severity”.
The Yunnan provincial People’s Procuratorate official microblog suggested: between attacking online rumours and protecting online freedom, there is a balance point that should be grasped well, we must not fall from one extreme into the other”.
There is a crucial point here, which is that public power must correctly present its own position, and deal well with the relationship between being rulers and being supervised. In attacking online rumours, do not wrong the innocent or connive with the bad, do not have private interests, don’t be blind, guarantee citizens’ proper expressions of opinions and public opinion supervision, guard against public opinion surveillance technology flowing to grass-roots governments, where some local officials of low quality use it to suppress dissidents, and this can only hide contradictions and increase social pressure.
It is hoped that netizens posts do not incite revenge against officials or the wealthy or opposition to the system, it is also hoped that Internet governance will not aggravate suspicion and confrontation between officials and the people, but that popular feelings become warm again because the people’s confidence is won.
After operationalized forceful rectification, it is also necessary to establish long-term Internet governance mechanisms, to bring the campaign of attacking online rumours onto the daily track of the legal system and social construction.
– Concerning online noise, draw a clear distinction between the three levels of entertainment (aesthetic interests), morality and the law, deal with manners in a categorized manner, manage matters meticulously. For example, you may like or dislike “Little Times” and “Empresses in the Palace”, but the government should not use public power to ban them, and the public should also see them as being suppressed by the government because of three successive critical articles in the “People’s Daily”. In the Eighties of last century, CCP Politburo member Hu Qiaomu did not like misty poems, and went to visit the misty poet Shu Ting on Gulangyu in Xiamen, the two people ended up in a strong argument about academic issues, in loud voices, and it even “alarmed the local public security chief on security duty”, the exchange ended inconclusive. But afterwards, Shu Ting said, “the old man has a high attitude, he has not sought to bring trouble onto the backs of writers because of the sparks of collision, like some cultural officials”.
– Concerning questions of ideology, ideological methods should be used more often to resolve them. With regards to the issue of the masses’ ideological understanding, use more talk and fewer fists. When the CCP had not yet seized political power, Yun Daiying ran “China Youth”, Tao Fen ran the “Life” magazine and Zhou Enlai came to lead the “New China Daily”, they united the youth strata, the urban strata and the democratic parties. After the CCP became the governing party, this special skill of propaganda and agitation could not be sheathed as a sword. When coming across sudden incidents and sensitive topics, it cannot be that only the move of blocking online articles is left. Today’s “pens” are computer mice, we must retake the “computer mouse discourse power”, advance towards microblogs, BBSs and Renren, arouse hundreds and thousands of netizens, convince people by reasoning and moving people with emotions.
– Simultaneously develop public force and online community self-governance, Internet governance must have both strength and grace. At present, the use of legal coercive measures resolves the historical debt of many years of Internet management in one stroke. But as the Internet is a community organized by netizens themselves, netizens’ self-discipline cannot be abandoned, upgrading media self-control also requires online “opinion leaders” to be forced to have a sense of social responsibility. The State Internet Information Office director Lu Wei agreed on “Lu’s Seven Rules” with a few dozen online celebrities, which were the legal and regulatory baseline, the Socialist system baseline, the national interest baseline, the baseline of citizens’ lawful rights and interests, the social and public order baseline, the moral custom baseline and the truthful information baseline, which reflected a sort of flexible governance thinking about the Internet.
– “Cleaning up the Net” is not realistic and not scientific, the Internet is a place that tends back towards the truth of the matter through the free exchange of information and the collision of opinions. More crucial than “cleaning up the Net” is that traditional media must be good gatekeepers of online information and emotions. Traditional media cannot become the printing plates of online posts. In comparison with the situation where everyone can post microblogs and stray 140-character bullets fly everywhere, traditional media are, in fact, much more suited to deeply excavate the truth of affairs, make accurate judgments, and impose strict sector self-discipline whenever mistakes harm their professional reputation. In the face of the ever growing pressure of Internet popular will, can propaganda media be developed in a stable manner, can the specialist spirit of news be made to become a filter for helter-skelter information on the Internet and stabilizing ballast for citizens’ mentalities, and can stable, open, inclusive and rational multi-dimensional public opinion spaces be built? Apart from treating the Internet kindly and managing it kindly, using the Internet kindly is a first-level government skill and state that must be raised a notch.
Learn to have a dialogue and make friends with different groups, pay attention to “differentiated” communication. At present, quite a few different social groups have emerged, from those who have returned from overseas, or who have returned but are looking for jobs, to the ant people and the Beijing floaters, and even to scattered households and “old women”, they have broad common interests, and all have their own different interests they pursue. We must not use news copy to cover all under heaven when we discuss propaganda. Formulate a tailor-made accented agenda for different social groups, launch interaction with them and realistically raise the focus of news and propaganda, and the effectiveness of public opinion guidance.
– Build online interaction through-trains for officials and the people, to resolve problems one-on-one. The People’s Daily Net local leader message board is a very good online platform innovation, netizens can log onto the message board, and directly leave messages for Party and government number-one leaders at the three levels of county, city and province to express their appeal, and this at the same time also avoids the hubbub of public opinion platforms such as microblogs. From its inception in 2006 up to now, 51 provincial secretaries or governors, 400 city and district-level number one leaders and more than 850 county secretaries have responded to netizens’ comments.
Government affairs microblogs also give increasing regard to their private letter function, and so, how many cases of breaking the law out of despair, such as Qian Minqi, Chen Shuizong and Ji Zhongxing may be avoided?
– Some senior media people plan imagine that Central news work units and provincial, autonomous region and municipal directly-subordinate work units might be able to stop providing news information to commercial portal websites, and publish them on central and local focus news websites. If commercial portal website want to use [news], they must link back to the focus news website, and thereby weaken the media properties of commercial portal websites. Might microblogs and other self-media platforms be able to cancel repost and comment calculation functions, to reduce the entertainment nature of self-media? These measures may cool down the high fever of online public opinion, and emasculate the commercial “navy”.
– Press and propaganda in relation to mainstream ideology must not only fight positional warfare, it must also learn to fight a guerrilla war. Learning from some social media’s marketing methods, the use of forums, BBSs, post bars, microblogs, public WeChat accounts, QQ groups, WeChat friend circles, etc., discussion topics are to be set up ingeniously, do conduct information dissemination and viewpoint guidance.
– Can the Internet “National Team” forge the superiority of a “joint navy”? Party and government organs have already more than 200.000 official microblogs, there are also about 100 Party newspapers and official media at all levels who have legal personality microblogs, but they all do things their own way and interact extremely little. Will they be able to explore some sort of linked communication mechanisms, to realize a focus on topics, topic sharing and differentiation of angles with regards to focus and difficult issues in policy and propaganda in a specific period, where all display their abilities, and conduct differentiated and integrated public opinion guidance?
In November of this year, the 3rd Plenum of the 18th Party Congress will completely plan economic and social structural reform, and forge “Chinese economy upgrade plan” for the next decade. Kindly dealing, kindly managing and kindly using this “biggest variable” of the Internet, forming a public opinion sphere with vitality and rationality, a system that is elastic and has legal standards, is the basic guarantee for deepening reform. If rulers listen to all sides, they will be enlightened, and the sea will receive a hundred rivers; where rulers control riots and restrain evil, but moderate their court affairs, governing a large country is like frying a small fish.
The author is the Chief Secretary of the People’s Daily Online Public Opinion Monitoring Unit