Individual Users Targeted by New Internet Rules

In a post for China Media Project, David Bandurski looks at how new internet regulations are shifting the onus of censorship from the media or internet platforms to the individual users:

Regulations released last week on the management of chat groups on social media services like , QQ and Baidu Post Bar, show us the extent to which media controls are now centered not, as they were in the past, solely on the gatekeeping media, but on users — which is to say, citizens — themselves.

As others have reported, the regulations require that those operating chat groups set up credit rating systems for the online conduct of users. But most worrying is the way the regulations extend to individual users political controls that once targeted Chinese media, and were the bane of reporters, editors, publishers and website monitors alone.

Let’s take a quick look. The regulation first defines, in Article 3, the two groups toward which the rules are directed: the “service providers,” those platforms that operate group chat services, and the “users,” who include “those who set up chat groups, those who manage them, and those who are members.” Users are, in short, everyone.

[…] This piece of devilry is one of the most specific indications we have yet of the Party’s atomization and personalization of censorship, of the way the relationship between propaganda and the public is being transformed by digital communications. [Source]

New regulations that Bandurski refers to require creators of messaging groups to monitor content and behavior within their groups while users of internet forums are also now required to have their identity verified before posting. Lulu Yilun Chen and Keith Zhai at Bloomberg report:

Regulations released Sept. 7 made creators of online groups responsible for managing information within their forums and the behavior of members. While they don’t take effect until October, authorities have jumped into action by disciplining 40 people in one group for spreading petition letters while arresting a man who complained about police raids, according to reports in official Chinese media.

The prospect of punishment for the actions of others has led many administrators to disband groups while others circulate self-imposed rules discouraging the spreading of rumors or unauthorized information about Hong Kong and Taiwan. Some are turning to alternatives, such as encrypted messaging apps, to avoid government scrutiny. The regulations are the latest in a series of moves carried out by authorities, as China ramps up for the politically sensitive period of the 19th Communist Party congress. [Source]

Meanwhile, internet users dealing with censorship on Chinese platforms while also being blocked from accessing many foreign social media sites were agitated when the Communist Youth League announced its presence on Twitter. While Twitter is blocked in China, some internet users access it and other banned sites by using Virtual Private Networks, but a recent crackdown on that technology has made such circumvention more difficult. From Minnie Chan at South China Morning Post:

Shanghai-based political commentator Chen Daoyin said the opening of the account was the latest indication that Beijing wanted to expand its “ideological battlefield” beyond national borders.

“Beijing is no longer satisfied with just exporting Chinese culture. Now it wants to be able to influence public opinion overseas,” he said.

[…] The opening of the organisation’s Twitter account stands in stark contrast to Beijing’s latest efforts to make its Great Firewall even more impenetrable. While the league – which is an incubator for the country’s future leaders – will be free to use the banned social media platform to bypass the censors, news emerged earlier this month that a 26-year-old man from southern China’s Guangdong province had been sentenced to nine months in prison for providing access to virtual private networks that achieved exactly the same result. [Source]