China & Social Media Censorship: Go ahead and critisise the government!

Obama is used to it.

Sarkozy had to get accustomed. Even stalwart Angela Merkel gets her fair share.

Everywhere around the world country leaders have adjusted to on-line criticism. Just a scroll through my news feed on Facebook and I get a quick understanding of my friend’s political views.

Nick Kalm in Chicago rejoiced at the Wisconsin governor recall election outcome. Go Republicans! Jane Keneally in Sydney lamented what would become of Australia if Tony Abbott were elected. Keep running Liberals! And if I were able to decipher all the Tweets coming to me from Japan, I would get a clearer view of that country’s political system. (Note to self: Figure out Japan politics. Then publish best-seller.)

But in China, it was always assumed that the Great Firewall of China would cut out any political discontent. It seems, comrades, that’s not wholly true.

Harvard University released a ground-breaking study of online content in China. Researchers looked at hundreds of thousands of posts across numerous social media platforms. What they found is it’s okay to take pot-shots at government. Just don’t rock the boat on social issues.

If there’s a senior Communist Party member with a mistress, go ahead and talk. Thousands do. Don’t care for the princelings in their super-fast cars? You’re not alone.

It seems censorship in China is not overly concerned with criticism of government. What does concern them are social issues. When rumours were spread that iodised salt could protect you from radiation poisoning after Fukushima, thousands of Weibo posts were deleted. After Bo Xilai was sacked, the rampant mentions of a possible coup attempt at Zhongnanhai were removed.

Most recently the anniversary of Tiananmen led to a marked increase in censorship – even the term ‘candle’ was blocked and posts with the word were removed.

If you look at the massive geographical expanse of China you’ll begin to understand why. This enormous terrain is governed by the nine members of the Politburo Standing Committee. And if you recall the Arab Spring and how social media played a role in changes of government, you’ll complete the picture. Bob Fu of China Aid said recently there’s social unrest in China every four minutes. That’s a lot to manage.

In an effort to keep the nation stitched together, leaders in China actively scour the Internet for messages of discontent. Go ahead – call them scandalous things. Just don’t rock the boat!

2 thoughts on “China & Social Media Censorship: Go ahead and critisise the government!

  1. This is so ineresting since I know little about China – overwhelmingly vast. Thanks to you I am learning in a most compelling way.

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