Date
19 November 2017
The website of the Unirule Institute of Economics, founded by Mao Yushi (pictured) and other highly respected economists, was shut down by mainland authorities last month. Photo: Radio Free Asia
The website of the Unirule Institute of Economics, founded by Mao Yushi (pictured) and other highly respected economists, was shut down by mainland authorities last month. Photo: Radio Free Asia

It’s time for Beijing to reflect on rise of social media

In a bid to tighten its grip on ideology, the Communist Party has been intensifying its surveillance of the cyberworld.

The move comes as the Chinese people become increasingly reliant on Weixin (China’s version of WhatsApp), Weibo (the domestic equivalent of Twitter), and tens of millions of websites for communication and information sharing.

The authorities would go to any lengths to silence bloggers and websites they deem subversive or endangering social stability, arresting the people involved and shutting down the websites.

Meanwhile, official mouthpieces are working at full throttle to discourage people from relying on private apps and websites for information.

On Jan. 24, for example, the People’s Daily published an article titled “Don’t let Weixin hijack your parents’ dinner table”.

In the article, the author lashed out at Weixin for allegedly disseminating false information about food safety and causing widespread panic.

However, it is open criticism of government policies and the Communist Party that is truly worrying the authorities.

Given the ubiquity of smartphones and phone apps, “spiritual contamination” can spread at the speed of light across the nation, posing potentially enormous danger to the legitimacy and credibility of the regime.

To eliminate these threats before they can take hold among the public, the authorities have been mounting a nationwide crackdown on dissent.

Their targets are not only dissident bloggers, but also prominent academics who maintain their own websites to discuss public and economic policy issues.

In just one day, on Jan. 28, the authorities ordered the shutdown of 17 websites, including the one operated by the Unirule Institute of Economics, or the Tianze Institute(天則研究所),a civilian think tank formed in 1993 by a group of highly respected and prominent economists in the mainland.

Even though none of the founders of the institute is on the list of wanted dissidents of the authorities – some of them even held official positions – their open criticism of the government’s economic and monetary policies has ruffled the feathers of some high-ranking party leaders.

Thus, they were ordered to keep quiet.

All newspapers and television networks across the country are toeing the party line. Dissenting voices have been totally eliminated from mainstream media.

As a result, the public have to rely on other channels to get authentic and uncensored information. Thus, the popularity of Weixin and Weibo.

Instead of cracking down on dissenting voices on the internet, perhaps the authorities should reflect on why the public would rather believe what they read on social media than trust the information provided by state-run media.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 1

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

RT/CG

Hong Kong Economic Journal contributor

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