For China, a Costly Lesson in Engaging its Netizens

From Singapore’s The Straits Times, via

The Yunnan official who turned the national media spotlight onto the case with his unprecedented decision to involve bloggers, however, has kept a low profile since the real cause of Li’s death came to light.

When asked what was behind his move, Wu Hao, 39, the deputy director of Yunnan’s provincial propaganda bureau, had earlier said that “public opinion on the Internet must be solved with the means of the Internet”.

However, netizens later exposed the fact that some of the bloggers “randomly selected” for the probe were actually working members of the official media.

There has been head-shaking in the Chinese press over what many see as Wuss failed public relations stunt. A Xinhuanet commentary declared that Yunnan officials had “shot themselves in the foot”.

The whole episode shows that the “Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda system has real challenges every time it uses old approaches to handle online public opinion”, Professor Xiao Qiang of the University of California at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism said.

“A younger cadre such as Wu Hao was seeking new ways to deal with it. His attempt was poorly executed and failed to win netizens’ trust. It only revealed the deeper structural problems of the political system,” he told The Straits Times.

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