Officials criticised for failing to censor Web public opinion
Local governments have come under fire for their failure to understand the power of the internet to stir up protests and have been urged to harness the latest technologies to control public opinion.
The Xinhua-run Outlook Weekly magazine published a detailed report yesterday on the internet's role in creating 'mass incidents'.
Quoting internet censors and government and party officials, the magazine warned the internet 'has become a major mobilisation tool and communication channel for some mass incidents' and was another obstacle preventing officials dealing effectively with protests. The article urged local officials to develop new political and technical approaches to tackle such incidents.
Internet users have been the driving force behind a string of campaigns. Most recently, the case of a hotel pedicurist in Hubei province who killed a government official who was allegedly trying to rape her sparked outrage online and eventually forced the authorities to gag the media and seal off the county where the incident took place.
'In the past, mass incidents usually took place in one location, so the amount of information was limited and its spread was limited,' the article said. 'However, with a skyrocketing netizen population, some local cases have expanded in scope due to the interaction in cyberspace.'
Experts said the authorities needed to step up training and reduce dependence on traditional propaganda channels.
A former official from Shanghai's Internet News Administration Office, Zhang Xiaoyu, was quoting as saying that 'in the current transitional period of society, people are highly sensitive about how public powers participate in the allocation of social interests'.
'Misconduct by an official, once disclosed and publicised on the internet, can trigger huge criticism among netizens,' he said, and could 'radically change the public's opinion on the party and government'.
The article criticised officials for 'depending solely on internet police and propaganda officials' to quell anger triggered by online discussion.
An internet official in Anhui province complained that there was no good way to control cyberspace. 'On the internet the enforcement territory is boundless,' the official said. 'And in real life, it's a big challenge for the police to respond to online incidents if the participants are all over the place.'
As if to underscore the problems outlined in the article, it was swiftly picked up and criticised by netizens, who fear it is the prelude to strict new controls.
'The appearance of such an article in the official media means a new internet crackdown is about to take place,' an entry on the popular Cat898.com forum said.
The article could not have been released at a more sensitive time, as blogs and chat rooms have been blocked in a bid avoid trouble during this week's 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Great leap forward
The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology says the number of mainland internet users rose by 16.2 million in the first quarter of this year
That took the total to: 316m