China Takes Internet Censorship to New Level

China Takes Internet Censorship to New Level
Photo Credit: Reuters/Carlos Barria
What you need to know

China intends to 'foster a healthy, positive Internet culture' by purging comments by its nearly 700 million Internet users.

Listen
powered by Cyberon

China is tightening censorship of online comments to eliminate what it calls "unhealthy information" and promote “helpful and well-intentioned” messages.

On June 22, the Cyberspace Administration of China issued a statement saying the strengthened measures would address “outstanding problems.”

Ren Xianliang (任賢良), deputy head of the administration, said the government intends to increase the rate of purges in comments sections and to provide easier access for people to report "inappropriate remarks."

We must "proactively foster a healthy, positive Internet culture, and let cultured comment, rational posts and well-intentioned responses become the order of the day online," Ren said.

Ren issued the orders to government-controlled commercial Internet companies and news websites during a nationwide video conference.

China has been actively supervising and regulating online speech for nearly two decades. In addition to filtering information circulated online, the government produces fake comments in a bid to influence and control Internet discussions.

A recent study led by Harvard University scholar Gary King shows that Beijing writes approximately 488 million social media comments a year — most praising the regime in Beijing.

In 2013, China initiated a major crackdown on outspoken online celebrities, including billionaire venture capitalist Charles Xue Biqun (薛必群) and investor Wang Gongquan (王功權).

In comments posted on social media earlier this year, real estate tycoon Ren Zhiqiang (任志強) publicly defied an order by President Xi Jinping (習近平) to state media asking them to show "absolute loyalty" to the Chinese Communist Party. Ren’s accounts were banned as a result.

Last week, Tian Jin (田進), deputy director of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, wrote a commentary reiterating Xi’s order, adding that those found to mock state policies or promote extreme views would be seriously punished.

Amnesty International says China "has the largest recorded number of imprisoned journalists and cyber-dissidents in the world" and Paris-based Reporters Without Borders stated in 2010 and 2012 that "China is the world's biggest prison for netizens.”

Censorship intensifies

China has adopted some of the world’s most restrictive measures to censor information across media, according to The New York Times. In recent months, the government seems to have intensified those measures.

Television, news media, and popular social media platforms are all censored in China. The government has also blocked many major American Internet companies like Google, YouTube, and Twitter.

Chinese officials claim the restrictions are required to ensure national security in the face of rising threats, such as terrorism.

On March 28, the Chinese government said it would more strictly manage domestic websites. A draft law posted by a Chinese Internet regulator said that websites in China would have to register domain names with local service providers and with the authorities.

A report by the Beijing Times on Feb. 28 said the Chinese government had called for a merging of censorship standards for online and traditional television content.

The guidelines for censorship listed out a variety of banned subjects, including descriptions of smoking, same-sex relationships, underage romance, extramarital affairs, witchcraft, and reincarnation. Any depiction that might hurt Chinese people’s "feelings" and the nation’s unity and sovereignty were not allowed.

On Feb. 19, China issued orders stating that foreign companies or their affiliates have to be granted government approval before they publish any content online.

Digitized books, art, literature, and science are also affected by the new restrictions.