Chinese Microblogging Governance: Flaws with September’s Online Rumor Law

Yuanyuan Dong, a lecturer at the School of Languages and Communications Studies at Beijing Jiaotong University, discusses issues with China’s September 2013 legislation which permitted imprisonment for slanderous material on microblogs shared at least 500 times or viewed 5,000 times.

Microblogging has become increasingly popular in China, and the main channel for Chinese netizens to collect and share information. By the end of October 2013, China’s microblogging population reached 530 million people. Realizing microblogging’s enormous social influence, the Chinese government has begun to exert gradual management and supervision of speech on micro-blogging platforms.

On September 9, 2013, building on existing online rumor laws, the Supreme People’s Court of PRC and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate of PRC jointly announced “The Interpretation of Issues about Applicable Laws Dealing with Criminal Cases of Using Information Networks to Slander,” (this legislation shall be henceforth referred to as the Interpretation). The main clause of this Explanation provides supplemental provisions to Article 246 of The Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China, which states that:

“Whoever, by violence or other methods, publicly humiliates another person or invent stories to defame him, if the circumstances are serious, shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not more than three years, criminal detention, public surveillance or deprivation of political rights.”

In the 2013 Interpretation…

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Government-Dominated Governance and the Double-Edged Sword

Ran Liu, a graduate student in Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, discusses her most recent research on Internet policy scholarship in China.

In recent years, academia’s interest in the Chinese Internet, especially its potential for promoting social movements, democracy and human rights, has increased. However, when it comes to Internet policy and governance scholarship, Chinese scholars are overshadowed by the English-dominated academic world. Compared to their Western counterparts, articles published in Chinese are found to be more conservative, less theoretical, and less focused on the political consequences of the Internet (Qiu & Bu, 2013; Wei, 2009).

To enrich global narratives of Internet policy with an often-overlooked angle, I recently critically examined and analyzed current scholarship on Internet policy written in Chinese and published in Mainland China. Using a research sample of 226 Internet governance articles developed from the Chinese National Knowledge Institution Database (CNKI), [1] my findings address major questions including: What is the major discourse constructed around Internet policy, and who are the major architects in Chinese scholarship? Is there a debate happening among Chinese scholars as China is an authoritarian regime? Does Chinese scholarship provide a different story from international narratives about Internet?

Overall Chinese academic discourse on Internet governance is highly coherent. Scholarship generally considers the national government the dominant Internet governance player…

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What Balkanizes the Internet: Access Denied or Access Unwanted?

Harsh Taneja & Angela Xiao Wu discuss their upcoming research project on access blockage and balkanization of the Internet.

Two months after attending a celebration to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall, then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced: “A new information curtain is descending across much of the world.”

Clinton’s quote reflects a larger trend in the US policy discourse on the Internet. This dominant discourse equates access blockage with a digital version of the Iron Curtain that curbs the “free flow of information” and creates a vital “partition” on the “global” Internet. Such claims assume that Internet users would use all websites if given access. However, a large body of research on media use shows that people are interested in what unfolds nearby and is in their preferred language. If the latter holds true, one needs to empirically investigate the extent to which access blockage confines Internet users within isolated communities.

CGCS has created the Internet Policy Observatory (IPO) to research the dynamic technological and political contexts in which Internet developments and censorship take place. The IPO will serve as a platform for informing relevant communities of activists, academics, and policy makers, displaying collected data and analysis about ongoing events, such as key decisions and proposals, legal or informal, on Internet policy. Through the IPO, we will be embarking on our project, “What Balkanizes the Internet: Access Denied or Access Unwanted.”  It examines…

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Lost and Found: Collections of Censored Posts on Sina Weibo

Ran Liu, a graduate student in Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, discusses China’s censorship of Weibo through an analysis of NGO ProPublica’s new “China’s Memory Hole” project.

Most netizens in China have complained about the “Little Secretary,” the censorship mechanism on the most popular Chinese microblog service Sina Weibo. Content may disappear at any minute only to be replaced by an ambiguous notice that a “post is inappropriate to display publicly.”  Users find it difficult to anticipate whether their posts will live the day as censorship logic is, while sometimes predictable, more often than not quite elusive.

Scholars are exploring the mechanisms of censorship on the Chinese Internet to better discern Chinese censorship practices. For instance, a recent study at Harvard University led by Gary King discovered that messages discussing or invoking collective actions are more likely to get censored. That is to say, “censorship is oriented towards attempting to forestall collective activities that are occurring now or may occur in the future.”[i] A new book from China Specialist Jason Ng also discusses key words blocked on Weibo.

The new project “China’s Memory Hole,” by the New York based NGO ProPublica, provides a more intuitive and interactive demonstration of China’s Internet censorship. From July 24to August 4, 2013, ProPublica tracked 100 Weibo accounts to detect censored images, collecting a total of…

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