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China: Over 100,000 Weibo Users Punished for Violating ‘Censorship Guidelines’

Categories: Free Expression, Human Rights, Internet governance, Legal Threats, Regulation, China

The “ideological battle” [1] against online public opinion leaders and “Internet celebrities” constitutes only one front on the ever-broadening battlefield of online censorship in China. On another front lies a new “code of conduct,” a series of punishments to penalize netizens who act out of line.

According to the Beijing District¬†Joint Platform Against Rumor [2], more than 103,673 Sina Weibo users have been penalized since August 2013 for violating the Weibo “community code of practice (CoP)” and the “Seven Self-Censorship Guidelines [3]“.

An official release alleges [4] [zh] that among the penalized Weibo users:

The newly implemented community penalties range from temporary account suspension to permanent deletion of accounts.

The Joint Platform Against Rumor is a self-governing platform formed by 22 online media outlets and led by the Beijing City Internet Information Office and Beijing Internet Association. The online media outlets are supposed to contribute to the battle against online rumors according to the Seven Self-Censorship Guidelines [3] put forward by the State Internet Information Office on August 10, 2013.

22 online media outlets signed up to joint-hands in cracking down rumors. Screen capture image. [2]

22 online media outlets signed up to join hands in cracking down rumors. Screen capture image.

Originally, the Weibo CoP implemented by the CoP Community Center only sought to suppress [5] the spread of commercial spam, indecent material, and rumors. However, judging from the newly released data, the target of the crackdown has shifted. Roughly 75% of the users are being punished for posting “personal attack comments” — but what constitutes a “personal attack” is highly arbitrary and entirely at the discretion of authorities. As one netizen pointed out, “this is just an excuse to silence those who are critical of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)”. Another user pointed out that the Party-sponsored online commentators are “immune to” the community rule even when they have launched personal attack comments against political liberals. It appears that the so-called “community” rule only applies to dissenting voices.

The Sina Weibo data has shed some light on the disappearance of online “critical comments” [1] in the past three months – dissenters have been forbidden to speak out online and ordinary netizens are slowly being disciplined into behaving as passive consumers of online information through the imposition of “community code of practice.”