The internet forum on Saturday in Beijing. Photo: SCMP

Be more positive, Chinese internet tsar Lu Wei tells celebrity weibo users

Internet tsar's remarks seen as another indication of expanded effort to rein in critical posts of microbloggers with large online followings

The national internet tsar's call for a "more positive" discussion online has fuelled new concern about an expanded Communist Party effort to silence internet celebrities whose huge followings make them some of government's most potent critics.

The remarks by State Internet Information Office director Lu Wei at a forum on "social responsibilities of internet celebrities" in Beijing on Saturday appeared to signal tighter internet restrictions on the most-popular microbloggers.

Lu said it was their civic responsibility to "deliver more positive and constructive messages" and "promote virtue and trust" with their comments, according to a statement issued by his office after the forum.

"They shall set an example of protecting the legal rights of citizens and denouncing any activity that harm the reputation and interests of other people," Xinhua quoted him as saying.

Lu was joined on stage by eight "Big V" microbloggers - so dubbed because of their "verified" accounts on Sina Weibo. Among those present were property tycoon Pan Shiyi and business man Charles Xue, who have 16 million and 12 million followers, respectively.

The talk is to air on CCTV-2 on Sunday.

Hao Qun , a popular novelist and liberal-minded writer better known as Murong Xuecun, said the government appeared to be trying to tighten its control over the internet.

"They impose control by two means: cracking down in the name of curbing the spread of rumours and constantly shutting down accounts," Hao said. He had nearly four million followers on his Sina Weibo account before it was shut down in May.

Lu was promoted to director of the State Internet Information Office in April after spending two years as a deputy mayor of Beijing, in charge of propaganda. Before that, he spent six years as deputy publisher at Xinhua.

The eight microbloggers who joined him on stage said they agreed with Lu that social media users, particularly those with large followings, had a responsibility to protect the law, state interests, socialist ideals and morals. They should also help maintain order, be truthful and look out for people's legal rights.

Collectively, these requirements are being referred to as the "seven bottom lines".

"It is absurd to set a so-called bottom line on speech," Hao said. "Why can't we criticise things and systems that we think need improvement or are wrong? Unless there is imminent and real danger, such as sounding a false fire alarm in a shopping mall, people should be allowed to say what they want."

China's online social networks have exploded in recent years, with more than 1.2 billion accounts spread across 103 microblogging networks.

On Sina Weibo and - two of the biggest social networks - the number of accounts with at least one million followers have exceeded 3,300, according to Xinhua. There are about 200 accounts with at least 10 million followers.

Qiao Mu , a communications expert at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said the meeting was a typical example of the government trying to use its power to restrict people's freedom of speech.

"These [seven bottom lines] were disguised as expectations, but in reality they just move [the party's] propaganda theory to new media," Qiao said. "And it is a very bad sign that tighter online controls are imminent."

Qiao called for more government transparency, citing examples when authorities initially denied rumours that were later proven true.

Hao echoed that sentiment, saying that half of all online rumours could be addressed in a timely manner. "As for the other half, they turn out to be true, even if they were originally described by the government as rumours," he said.


This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Be more positive, celebrity weibo users are told