Communist party threatens to ‘punish dissemination of harmful information’ as microblogging gets bolder in the country
China has said that it will tighten its grip on social media in the country, in response to the surge in microblogging against inefficiency of the government.
China has repeatedly warned Internet companies and users that rumours on social media sites pose a "massive" threat to the country’s unity. Earlier this year, the government blocked several accounts on networking sites such as LinkedIn after it claimed users were discussing the Jasmine revolution.
Chinese authorities increased their monitoring of social media sites after the ‘Spring’ uprisings swept across the Arab world toppling many regimes. It is believed that the uprisings were fuelled by social media in those nations. The death of Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi is the latest of the changes occurring in the Arab world.
According to Reuters, China’s vow to quell the "extraordinary surge in microblogging in the country" is the loudest and the highest level official response.
The communique from the Communist party central committee, which held an annual meeting that ended last week, said the government will strengthen Internet administration and punish offenders.
Published in the official People’s Daily, the communique said that the government intends to "Strengthen guidance and administration of social Internet services and instant communications tools, and regulate the orderly dissemination of information.Apply the law to sternly punish the dissemination of harmful information."
At present, several social media sites such as Facebook are blocked in China. In July, a report on the country’s Web industry revealed a drop in the number of websites for the first time. Though experts said that tighter regulation, crackdown on porn and blocking sensitive forums have contributed to the decline, authors of the report say the recession and campaigns against Internet pornography and spam has caused websites to be shut down.
An editor of the report said "our content is getting stronger, while our supervision is getting more strict and more regulated."
The country, which boasts of the world’s most populous Internet market with over 450 million online users, also has one of the most sophisticated Internet control systems and firewall in the world. However, censors have struggled to keep up with the flow of information on popular microblogs, said the Guardian. It said that the number of registered users on domestic services reached 195 million by the end of June, triple the figure of six months earlier, citing the China Internet Network Information Centre.
The Guardian also quoted David Bandurski, of Hong Kong University’s China Media Project, saying: "This [communique] is what we have been waiting for; there have been signs for weeks now."
"It is important, but it does not tell us exactly what’s going to happen. It sends the signal: ‘Everyone watch out’.
In May, there was a crackdown in China on ‘virtual private network’ or VPN, which transmits encrypted data and is preferred by users to connect to websites which are otherwise blocked. Reports said that Chinese Internet users suspected that the government had tampered with VPN, which they had been using to circumvent the ‘Great Firewall.’
The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has criticised the use of the Great Firewall. Earlier this year, she had also announced that the US would provide $19m of funding to increase efforts to work around Internet controls in China and other authoritarian states.
In June, two senior military strategists of China’s Academy of Military Sciences Ye Zheng and Zhao Baoxian accused the US of triggering a global ‘Internet war’ and said that China must strengthen its cyber defence and prepare strategies to win the battle of public opinion in the Web world.
They wrote, "Of late, an Internet tornado has swept across the world … massively impacting and shocking the globe. Behind all this lies the shadow of America."
"Faced with this warmup for an Internet war, every nation and military can’t be passive but is making preparations to fight the Internet war."
The officials also referred to the "domino effect" of the Jasmine revolution that were triggered by Facebook and Twitter users and which eventually pulled down governments in the Middle East and north Africa.
"Cyberwarfare is an entirely new mode of battle that is invisible and silent, and it is active not only in wars and conflicts, but also flares in the everyday political, economic, military, cultural and scientific activities," they said.