China: Yunan web moderators’ disobedient act

In order to control online content and channel public opinion, local information ministry and propaganda department give daily instructions to webmasters and moderators of forums and portal websites to promote certain news and to delete certain posts.

Recently, a number of forum moderators and webmasters from Yunnan province jointly refused to carry out the instruction issued by police department to delete a post concerning a car accident on 25th of April which resulted in 22 deaths.

On 29th of April, a netizen, zhijiansha, disclosed the details of the accident in local forums and pointed out that it could have been avoid had the traffic police department been more effective in cleaning up the previous truck accident. Zhijiansha provided 10 photos on May 4th showing the accident scene and explained his view clearly. In order to show his responsibility for what he had said, zhijiansha even disclosed his mobile phone number.

While the police authority, instead of going via the official channels of information ministry and propaganda department, sent a QQ message (online instant message) to a web moderator e-group asking portals and forums to delete zhijiansha's post.

On the next day, three famous netizens and web moderators, Bian Min (邊民), Feng Zhi Moduan (風之末端)and Wen Sing(溫星), who had participated in the “Eluding the cat” investigation earlier this year openly criticized the authority's attempt in stopping the discussion. As zhijiansha was “invited” to coffee by police soon after he posted the photos, Bian Min posted a question: “if the local authority dare to invite the 22 deads to coffee?” in his post. Feng Zhi Moduan also posted doubt in his post, asking if the Yunan was playing the “eluding the cat” again (which implies that the authority was hiding the truth). The two posts have been re-pasted in major forums and received a lot of attention.

As a result of the pressure from Yunnan police department, major portal sites, such as Sina, has removed the article. However, back in Yunnan, the police's demand hasn't been carried out because of the three netizens’ public criticism and collective action. The incident reflects the departmental conflict in the control of public opinion and the emerging agency of web moderators in their daily operation.

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