Internet Censorship In China

The internet is a place full of bloggers, businesses, and a plethora of other information and people. The United States’ internet mostly operates outside of government intervention. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and every other media company have their own standards of what can and can not be posted (the rules are explicitly stated in the Terms of Service agreement that no one ever reads). But, as long as you are a decent and self-aware human being, you are unlikely to have your content taken down. 

Things are a little bit different in China. The Chinese government has a more hands on approach with deciding what is and is not allowed on the internet. They have been overly involved in its infrastructure, as well as the commercial and social use. Also, they are a little more sensitive. For example, in 2013, an image of Xi Jinping walking next to Barack Obama was compared to a similar image of the fictional characters Winnie the Pooh and Tigger walking in a similar way. Since then, censors blocked images comparing Xi Jinping to this character. It was blocked because it supposedly undermined the dignity of Xi and the presidential office. 

Photograph: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/Twitter/ @WhiteCurryLover

On March 1st, 2020, a new policy was put in place on what is and is not allowed. I have summarized the content of the policy below. This includes the goals of the policy, the obligations of the authorities, producers, and platforms, and possible consequences of disobeying the policy. But, first some history.

China became the 71st country to join the global computer network in 1994. Since then, they have experienced rapid Internet development, overtaking the US as the largest Internet user in the world by 2008. At first, China used it for scholarly exchanges of information. They realized it was helping with economic development, so they encouraged fast development and commercial use. 

Their first networks included:

  • China Academic Network (CANET)
  • China Research Network (CRNET)
  • Institute of High Energy Physics (IHEP) Network. 

China has banned many forms of Western media, such as Twitter and Facebook. They have created their own versions of these Western sites. China has:

  •  They have the Twitter like Sina Weibo (over 250 million users). 
  • They have WeChat (known in Chinese as Weixin) and Tencent QQ (over 800 million registered users). 
  • They also have YouTube like Youku. 
  • The chief search engine in China is Baidu.

China’s internet censorship censorship system is referred to as the Great Firewall of China. The Great Firewall of China was constructed with the Golden Shield Project (金盾工程). Some of their censorship methods include IP blocking, keyword filtering, and DNS hijacking.

Provisions on the Governance of the Online Information Content Ecosystem

  • This is the newest policy on Internet censorship. It was issued in December of 2019, and came into force on March 1, 2020.
  • Also called: Regulations on Ecological Management of Network Information Content

This policy is based around “promoting positive energy and disposing of illegal and harmful information conducted by the government, enterprises, society, Internet users, and other parties based on cultivating and practicing core socialist values and targeted at network information content with the purpose of establishing and improving a comprehensive network governance system, creating a clean cyberspace, and building a sound network ecosystem.”

Authorities (this includes both state and local authorities):

  Authorities are supposed to be involved in:

  • Planning and coordinating content
  • Deterring illegal activity
  • Helping and cooperating with law enforcement

Producers:

  Content producers are encouraged to publicize:

  • Xi Jinping’s thoughts on Socialism 
  • the Party’s principles and policies
  • The highlights of social and economic development
  • Social concerns, dispel doubts and confusion, and help the citizens reach a consensus
  • Content enhancing China’s international influence
  • Content promoting the values of Socialism
  • Anything that promotes style, truthfulness, responsibility, unity, and compassion

Content producers are not allowed to produce content that:

  • Goes against the Constitution, laws, and regulations 
  • Endangers national security, leaks state secrets, subverts state power, or undermines unity
  • Damages the reputation or interests of China
  • Advocates or instigates terrorism or extremism
  • Spreads rumors that disturb order
  • Defaming a hero, martyr, or any other individual
  • Inciting ethnic hatred or discrimination
  • Undermines national religious practices
  • Spreads obscenity, pornography, terror, or other criminal activities

Platforms

Content platforms must, among other things:

  • Promote positive cyberculture
  • Set up mechanisms to effectively control the content, user administration, accounts, cyberbullying, and content disposal
  • Report to relevant authorities if laws are not followed.
  • Control and/or monitor blogs, ads, popular searches, online games and services, e-commerce, etc
  • Encourage content safe for minors
  • Set up a convenient reporting system
  • Set up a yearly report on the security and ecosystem of the platform.

Legal Liability

If any of these obligations are not followed, users/platforms/producers can expect:

  • Warnings
  • Restriction of functions
  • Suspension of updates
  • Termination of accounts
  • Restriction of behavior
  • Questioning
  • Deletion of posts 

Although the Chinese government has put a lot of effort into policing the internet, it’s questionable whether or not they are doing it successfully. As we all know, the internet is a vast place. Also, Chinese netizens have been finding ways to get around the censorship. More on that in my next post about this topic.

Sources:

Xu, X., Z. Morley, M., & Halderman, J. A. (2011). Internet Censorship in China: Where Does the Filtering Occur?, 133–142.

Liang, B., & Lu, H. (2010). Internet Development, Censorship, and Cyber Crimes in China. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, Vol. 26, 103–120.

Zhang, B. (2020, March 1). Provisions on the Governance of the Online Information Content Ecosystem. Retrieved from https://wilmap.law.stanford.edu/entries/provisions-governance-online-information-content-ecosystem

Gamer, R. E., & Toops, S. W. (Eds.). (2017). Understanding Contemporary China: Fifth Edition. Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc.

Haas, B. (2018, August 6). China bans Winnie the Pooh film after comparisons to President Xi. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/07/china-bans-winnie-the-pooh-film-to-stop-comparisons-to-president-xi

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