Civil Liberties

Scenes from the Political Struggle in Chinese Cyberspace


Loretta Chao and Josh Chin have a long, interesting article in today's Wall Street Journal about China's current crackdown on the Internet. There's too much in the piece to summarize it all here, but this is the key development:

The popular Twitter-like microblogging service Sina Weibo on Tuesday deleted the accounts of several users, including that of Li Delin, a senior editor of the Chinese business magazine Capital Week, whose March 19 post helped fuel rumors of a coup in Beijing. The service announced the move to many of its more than 300 million user accounts, thereby turning it into a public lesson in the consequences of rumor mongering.

"Recently, criminal elements have used Sina Weibo to create and spread malicious political rumors online for no reason, producing a terrible effect on society," the notice said. It said the deleted users have "already been dealt with by public security organs according to the law." Sina didn't return calls for comment.

In his March 19 post, Mr. Li told his thousands of online followers that he had hit an unusual amount of traffic on Beijing's roads. "There are military vehicles everywhere. Chang'an Avenue is under complete control," he wrote. "There are plainclothes police at every corner. Some intersections have even been fenced off."

His post, which has since been deleted, came just days after Mr. Bo was removed as party chief of the city of Chongqinq. It helped fuel rumors that a coup was under way, a story that spread across the globe and prompted a media crackdown by the government reminiscent of its response to the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations.

…and this may be the moral of the story:

"The most important effect of weibo is decentralization," said Qiao Mu, director of the Center for International Communication Studies at Beijing Foreign Studies University, using the Chinese term for microblog. "Before, what the story is, who gets famous, everything was decided by the government. It was a centralized process. Now anyone can become famous. They don't need the government's permission. And anyone can put out news."