Top Chinese official urges ‘more forceful’ online controls

China needs to be “more forceful” in the way it manages the web. That’s according to one top government official, as the country attempts to tighten online controls amidst fears of social unrest.

Government officials should also use the web to “guide public opinion and promote positive social values,” said Wang Chen, head of the State Information Office — a newly set up government department to supervise online content.

According to the state-run Xinhua news agency, Chen also said “All regions and departments must… use more forceful and effective measures to strengthen the construction and management of cyber culture.”

Chinese authorities have been finding it increasingly difficult to maintain control over the country’s 500-million internet users.

More and more Chinese people have turned to online tools, particularly the highly popular microblogs (called weibos) to criticise government corruption and mishandling of disasters.

Adding to state fears of social unrest is the fact that China’s booming economy is showing signs of slowing amidst a global recession.

One example of the kind of news authorities are keen to stop from spreading are the wide scale strikes that have hit the country in recent weeks. Information about workers dissatisfied with low wages and layoffs, facing off against employers juggling high costs and slowing exports, spreads quickly on the web.

Weibo users also recently went online to criticise the government over its environmental failures after smog recently crippled the capital, Beijing, halting flights and causing health fears.

China’s largest online firms have been under pressure to tighten controls on their users for some time now.

Propaganda chief Li Changchun, fifth in the Communist Party hierarchy, met with a number industry leaders including search engine Baidu, and owner of China’s most popular weibo, Sina, urging them to tow the party line.

Sina responded by announcing that it had set up “rumour curbing teams” to monitor its more than 200-million users.

Under the regulations, any Sina Weibo user deemed to be spreading “false rumours” would have their accounts suspended.

Since then, however, authorities themselves have vowed to hunt down anyone they deem to be guilty of the same offence.

The task is, nonetheless, a daunting one given the fact that an estimated 300-million people have accounts on the country’s various weibos. This is more than triple the number of users at the end of 2010.

In a bid to take a more proactive role online, authorities recently rolled out a crack police team tasked with monitoring the weibos.



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