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Chinese Internet & Social Media: Where The Screen Looks At You

Updated: 5 hours ago


As you might imagine, social media in China functions a little differently than how it works here. These stark differences are primarily due to the authoritarian reach of the Chinese state. Under the “Great Firewall of China”, as some have termed it, the Chinese government conducts the world’s most extensive and sophisticated internet censorship operation; guarding the Peoples’ Republic from any pesky western propaganda machines like Facebook or Instagram.


Careful Construction


This is of course under the watchful eye of Xi Jinping, whose commitment to the sovereignty of China’s internal affairs is one he regularly reminds his domestic and foreign audiences of. As such, it would come as little surprise that he has accelerated Chinese internet censorship whilst also bolstering his own image in China, since becoming President in 2013.


This has been done in part through the meticulous use of social media to portray Xi as a real man of the people. This can be demonstrated by popular photos of him eating in a Beijing stuffed bun shop or playing football on a trip to Ireland. Whether this could be considered the green shoots of a Mao-like cult of personality or more like a celebrity status is up for debate. However, it cannot be denied that Xi can attribute much of his image to his portrayal on social media which has been aided by strict government controls, directly or indirectly.



Social Media and 'account bombing'


Weibo is one of the most popular social media platforms in China. Comparable to Twitter, the site hosts a variety of discussions pertinent to life in China. However, this doesn’t mean you can talk about whatever you like as discussion is coupled with the caveat of an ever-expanding list of topics which will cause discussions to be terminated.


Frustrated by the education system? Don’t bother.

Fancy complaining about housing? You may as well create another account.

Want to criticize the Party? That’ll be a short conversation.


Topics outside the CCP's pale of discussion, don’t tend to last long on Weibo due to the prevalence of 'account bombing' -where accounts are eerily disappeared, deleted to silence dissenting opinions.



'Xuexi' or 'Learn from Xi'


One similar platform took China by storm since its’ release in 2019 and has since become the most popular app in China with a usership comparable to the populations of the Netherlands, six times over. Officially called 'Xuexi Qiangguo' or ‘Study the Great Nation’, the app is a mix between a social media platform and a news outlet. According to the South China Morning Post, it is designed to encourage Chinese citizens to learn about party doctrine and Xi Jinping. Here, users can read articles on what their President has said on certain topics as well as watch his speeches. After this, they’re quizzed on topics and can accrue points with correct answers. Party members are most ardently encouraged to accumulate points or they can otherwise expect open criticism in official reports.


It’s also known by some as the ‘The Little Red App’, a nickname derived from Chairman Mao’s ‘Little Red Book’ and despite alluding to a comparison between Xi and Mao, controversies surrounding the app do not end here. In October 2019, a security review by Cyber Security firm -Cure 53- concluded that the app allowed for 'spying through the back door' due to the app’s capability to monitor users and control data -claims strenuously denied by the CCP. Similarly, despite party officials encouraging users to utilize the app’s video calling and messaging functions, Cure 53 stated how the weak encryption of video and messaging functions would allow the Government relatively easy access to users’ communication. Further still, according to the BBC, since October 2019, Chinese reporters have been required to possess a mandatory press card which must be obtained by passing a test on the life of Xi Jinping through the app.


After reviewing this, it’s important to question whether this innovative app, alive in the pockets of over 100 million people in China, denotes and precedes the future of China; simultaneously designed to deliver propaganda and guarantee its message is understood whilst possibly collating users’ information...


Party members, government officials, civil servants and reporters are just a few of those required to have "the little Red App" but what happens to those who choose to step out of line? Due to the emphasis China places on its' right to determine what it perceives as unsafe content, punishment can vary depending on the supposed harm of the dissenting content. Ranging from merely having your account deleted or being fined up to time in prison or at a re-education camp. It should come as no surprise that China sits at the top of the table regarding imprisoner journalists.


Without any clear signs of diverting from this course, it seems that at present this stringent online censorship will only continue or worsen in the years to come. This is made all the more poignant when considering how Xi is set to rule for the foreseeable future due to the removal of presidential term limits in 2018.



Sources

  • https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/jun/29/the-great-firewall-of-china-xi-jinpings-internet-shutdown

  • Ruan, L., Knockel, J. and Crete-Nishihata, M., 2020. Information control by public punishment: The logic of signalling repression in China. China Information, 35(2), pp.133-157.

  • https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-50042379

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41BsnHIMlFs

  • https://restofworld.org/2020/weibo-bombing/

  • https://thediplomat.com/2013/01/xi-jinping-chinas-first-social-media-president/

  • https://rsf.org/en/world-press-freedom-index

  • https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-china-blog-47236902

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