By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
BEIJING, China – Chinese authorities have renewed the threat that internet users who use the internet to make statements that the government deems to be false will be punished.
Internet use in China has exploded in recent months, causing the total number of internet users in China to become larger than the population of every country on earth with the exception of India and China itself.
A report by the China Internet Network Information Center has indicated that, as of June, 195 million of China’s 500 million internet users were utilizing the internet to operate microblogs. This number represents a 209 percent increase from the number of microblogs found at the end of 2010.
The sudden boom in microblogging has led authorities to express concern about the ability of users to quickly send information and comments that run contrary to the Communist Party’s censors.
The spokesperson from the State Internet Information Office under China’s Cabinet has called on internet users to “abide by the law, show self-discipline and refrain from spreading rumors.” The spokesperson has also ordered local authorities and websites to hold those that spread rumors accountable and penalize them to the full extent allowed by law.
As a result of warnings from government authorities and a visit from a Politburo member, China’s largest microblog operator, Sina Corp. is increasing its censorship over bloggers. The corporation has asked its users to help stop the spread of rumors and has warned that bloggers will have their accounts suspended for one month if they are found to have posted false information.
The apparent catalyst for Sina Corp’s decision to increase its censorship is a controversial blog that has caused Chinese authorities to express frustration at Sina Weibo, a microblog controlled by Sina Corp. In this blog a 31-year-old man posted fictitious stories about working as a prostitute. After his identity was discovered, his account was permanently deleted and he was forced to pay a fine for disturbing public order.
Chinese regulations permit those who spread rumors to be punished by serving five to ten days in jail and a fine of 500 Yuan, the equivalent of eighty American dollars.
China’s regulation of the internet is not a new phenomenon and the country currently blocks Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, and monitors other internet sites to block unfavorable information. Analysts suggest that the anxiety being exhibited by officials in response to the increasing use of microblogs could lead to even stricter regulations being placed on internet users in China.
For more information, please see:
Associated Press – China Vows to Punish Posters of Internet Rumors – 1 October 2011
People’s Daily Online – China Calls for Boycott on Online Falsehoods – 1 October 2011
Bloomberg – China Calls for Internet Crackdown After ‘Prostitute Diary’ Shut – 30 September 2011
Reuters – China’s Sina to Step-Up Censorship of Weibo – 19 September 2011