A Communist Party magazine published a commentary against internet users on Monday - saying they were disseminating false information. It is the latest in a series of state press editorials seeking to discredit liberal opinion leaders and online expressions of discontent.
The commentary, appearing in Qiushi (“Seeking Truth”), was entitled “Vigilant towards negative energy online - A rational view of cyberspace.” It noted that an increasing number of Chinese citizens were now living a “digital existence,” saying this was not necessarily a positive development.
“Frequent internet users have all had this particular experience,” the commentary said. “They open a webpage, log on to Weibo, and immediately and inadvertently sink into the middle of a negative information network… any rumour that the government refutes has to be fact, and any official release has to contain some dirty secret. Each and every contradiction in society is a problem with the system, and everyone would rather believe that things are wrong rather than believe they are right.”
The commentary then outlined several reasons for this influx of “negative energy” online.
“Negative information has a natural appeal and is likely to attract people’s curiosity and concern,” the commentary said. “Internet media often…hypes up all sorts of negative news…through provocative headlines, seductive images and exaggerated opinions,” it said.
The commentary then focused on China’s internet users, saying surveys indicated they were largely “low age, low education and low-income people. This group generally… indulges in the internet to publish all sort of extremist rhetoric… Over time they become psychologically dependent on the internet.”
The commentary then denounced “opinion leaders,” posters on forums which make controversial statements - often against liberal opinion leaders. The commentary had similar criticism for shuijun (“internet water army”) - groups of ghost writers paid to disseminate online comments.
“They make pandemonium in cyberspace…to discredit the image of the party and the government,” the commentary said. “Some do not even hesitate to rip apart the consensus of society and attack current institutions…in an attempt to create a… revolution on China’s world stage.”
The commentary concluded that internet users should understand that “cursing and criticising would not bring about the fall of the party or government, and will not bring happiness or better prospects in life. The internet has provided a platform for the free expression of opinion, but to think ‘free expression’ means that one can say just whatever one thinks is ignorance."
“Internet activists who enjoy freedom of speech must also be aware of their social and legal responsibilities. [They must be] wary of earning momentary acclaim at the expensive of deviating from righteousness and the law,” it added.
Since Monday, Sina Weibo, China’s most popular microblogging platform, has received thousands of comments responding to the article. Commentators called the piece everything from “entertaining” to “shameless”.
“So, we should all just disconnect our internet cables and let the common people continue to be bullied by government officials, police, relocation officers and other evil forces?” one commentator asked.
Many posts, however, noted the irony that an article denouncing internet use was being widely discussed on Weibo. “The government finally released a special issue to boycott Weibo,” another commentator said. “Guess they just couldn’t stand it.”