Dr. Li Wenliang was one of eight “rumormongers” punished for “spreading illegal and false information” about the coronavirus outbreak. When Li later became infected by the virus, authorities ordered coverage of the news offline. Li’s admonishment added fuel to public ire over the official response to the outbreak, and his death on Thursday–an incident that was also tightly managed by censorship authorities–further enflamed the anger. Despite increasing information controls, netizens took to social media platforms en masse to demand the freedom of speech guaranteed to them by the PRC Constitution.
The following “Special Report” by the private firm Warming High-Tech’s “Word Emotion Internet Intelligence Research Institute” (沃民高科沃德网情研究院), was leaked online and circulated on WeChat and Weibo. The document, prepared for “relevant central authorities,” analyzes the public response to Dr. Li’s death, and provides policy recommendations urging the continued use of censorship and propaganda.
Warming High-Tech claims to have developed “artificial intelligence technology to detect popular sentiment.” The mission of the firm, according to their website, is to ”solve the most difficult problems for China’s most important agencies,” and to “serve as a good ear and eye” for its government and private clients. It claims to have served various important government and military agencies. Further information on the company is provided below the translation along with screenshots of the leaked Chinese-language PDF.
Special Report On Major Internet Public Intelligence
(2020 – #2)
Womin High-Tech Word Emotion Internet Intelligence Research Institute 2/7/2020
Report on Web Users’ Emotional Response to the Death of Li Wenliang and Relevant Recommendations
After 21:00 on February 6, news that Li Wenliang was in critical condition attracted widespread attention, intensifying with the growing flow of online information. On February 7 at 3:48, Wuhan Central Hospital confirmed on their official Weibo that Li Wenliang had died at 2:58. This report applies to the current situation:
- Relevant Information Rapidly Intensified Into an Event That Has Flooded the Internet
Word Emotion [Warming Hi-Tech’s public opinion monitoring platform] data monitoring shows that online information on “Li Wenliang” gradually began to increase on January 29, reaching a small peak on January 31. After news of his critical condition spread at 21:00 on February 6, web-user mentions sharply increased, peaking at 23:00. Later, due to late-night timing and regulation, the amount of information gradually dropped. The amount of information as of 10:00 on February 7 is nearly the same as yesterday’s total volume, meaning that online attention remains high. Using the Weibo platform as an example, just the top 50 accounts reached more than a billion fans, signifying a flood-level event.
- Web Users Have Expressed a Combination of Grief and Indignation, Warranting Urgent Intervention
The data shows that, within our monitoring period, web-user sentiment mainly consisted of grief and anger. Before 23:00 on February 6, sadness dominated. Follow-up moods of anger gradually increased, warranting close attention.
- Reasons Behind Web Users’ Concern and Anger
Li Wenliang’s death is still brewing on the internet. Here are the reasons:
- Web users are taking advantage of this incident to voice their grave dissatisfaction toward certain systems [CDT translator’s note: “certain systems” here referring to “media and internet censorship system”] or government officials, whose dereliction of duty led to the outbreak of the epidemic, resulting in great losses for the country and the people;
- Overwhelming anger at the fact that Li Wenliang was admonished by the police. Web-users believe that Li’s admonition was among the crucial reasons why the best time to contain the epidemic was missed;
- Almost everyone’s income, employment, vacation, travel plans and holiday activities were affected by the epidemic. Moreover, people have no way to vent their frustration as they have been forced to stay at home. Li Wenliang’s death triggered and magnified such sentiment;
- All types of people both inside and outside of China who are dissatisfied with China’s system see this as an opportunity to hype the situation, etc.
- Seven Suggestions
In order to alleviate the spread of negative emotions online, especially feelings of outrage, we suggest taking the following measures towards reasonable claims made by web-users:
- Affirmation. Relevant government departments can, in corresponding forms, affirm Li Wenliang’s contribution to the epidemic prevention and control efforts. This is to meet the expectations of the majority of netizens.
- Accountability. Relevant discipline inspection commissions and other departments can, in an appropriate manner, make arrangements for accountability, and deal with responsible parties in accordance with laws and regulations. We suggest the government first make its position known. More accountability should follow once the epidemic is contained.
- Obstruct. It is suggested that relevant departments increase efforts to quickly identify rumors and [information] with bad intent from foreign forces, clear them up and shut them down.
- Reduce the burden. Increase support efforts for affected regions, promptly respond to the people’s demands, and reduce the emergence of new negative opinion.
- Restore order. Prevention and control measures in non-affected areas can gradually be slowed and business can progressively and orderly resume, reducing losses and negative pressure for everyone.
- Announce favorable news. As soon as possible, plan and officially launch post-epidemic policies, actions, and good news; set relevant agendas. Initiate discussions for web-users’ participation that will divert their attention.
- Maintain steadiness. To a degree, the current online fermentation and emotional venting are normal reactions. [The situation] at home is unsatisfactory, so these types of moods will be magnified, though it is unlikely street demonstrations and a major event–as have happened in the past–will occur. Due to this, we must maintain appropriate steadiness. For one, many places in the country are currently in first-level response to a major public health emergency; that along with the high contagion rate of the epidemic is dissuading people from daring to go out–after all, life supersedes everything else. Additionally, the government has a legitimate reason to decisively handle any crowd.
Warming High-Tech (Beijing) Corporation
Word Emotion Internet Intelligence Research Institute
Submitted to: Relevant Central Authorities
Issued by: Qi Zhongxiang Contributor: Li Tie Tel: 13901172888
According to information from the “about” section following the report, the company’s website, and public statements by founder Qi Zhongxiang, Warming High-Tech provides public opinion analysis services to government agencies and the private sector. Warming High-Tech’s business partners include China National Information Technology Security Research Center, Xinhua News Agency, China Central Television, the Insurance Association of China, and others. Qi Zhongxiang, founder and chairman of Warming High-Tech, describes his company’s approach as “popular sentiment calculation.” Qi explained in 2018 that big data can enable the government and businesses to identify “the internet black hand” behind every PR crisis. Qi says the ultimate goal of public opinion management is not surveillance but prediction. He envisions an algorithm based upon big data that can detect realtime changes in people’s sentiment and identify potential public opinion shifts before they occur. Qi also predicts that China’s public opinion surveillance will not only focus on China, but incorporate the whole world.
Qi is dubbed as an expert in public opinion management. He claims to hold a PhD in Management Philosophy from Beijing Normal University, and an EMBA from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and to have presented his research to CCP leadership. The firm claims to employ or contract with current and former state media producers, military leaders, computer scientists, social scientists, and legal professionals.