Snow? In Hebei? In May? Don’t even joke about it.
A young man in a small city in southern Hebei was called in for talks by the local internet police after posting a video of snowfall to Douyin tagged “Shahe City, Hebei” and asking, “Is it snowing where you are?” in an apparent bid for attention. (The video could also be an extremely oblique reference to the Yuan-dynasty era play “The Injustice to Dou E,” signifying great social injustice. The usual reference would be snow in July, however, not May.) While seemingly a trivial matter, the post precipitated a summons by local cyber police. The arrest notice posted to WeChat by the Shahe City Cyberspace Security Administration of China is a revealing look at how the internet is policed in China.
On May 6, members of the Shahe City CAC, the local internet police, discovered the aforementioned video during their digital “daily patrol.” After “verifying” that the implication of snow in Shahe was “seriously untrue”—presumably by looking out the window—they reached out to the local public security bureau to track down the account owner.
The account is run by a 29-year-old man. It has 1321 followers. He was detained by police and subjected to “strict education-through-criticism” (a punishment usually reserved for political crimes) during which he was lectured on the “harm” caused by his video, ordered to delete it, instructed to study Chinese cyberlaw, and forced to sign an “Internet with Integrity” pledge. After the talk, the account owner professed to understand the “grave” nature of his errors and promised similar issues will never recur. No criminal charges were filed.
The slogan on the wall says: “Without Cybersecurity There Is No National Security”
It is unlikely that more than a few hundred people had seen the video and less likely still that it could have caused any of them harm. The showy arrest is likely, in part, an effort by the local internet police to justify their existence in a cyberspace that is already tightly censored by platforms’ algorithms and in-house censors, leaving police with slim pickings on the “crime fighting” front. But it is also an effort to increase “police visibility” online and to hammer home the idea that “the internet is not a lawless land.” Xi Jinping once said it is the “spiritual home” of hundreds of millions. As such, the Party’s agents must be present to detect efforts to “confound black and white”—a phrase often used by the Party to label its opponents liars—even one as trivial as a misleading video of snow.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated the account was run by a 23-year-old man and had 27 followers. It is run by a 29-year-old man and has 1321 followers.