The new platform was unveiled by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the country’s main internet regulator and censor. CAC officials have proudly spoken about how authorities are going to encourage regular citizens to play an “active role” in helping identify people who are “malicious,” as well as those who are “confusing” others and “distorting facts.” (Related: China imprisoning citizens for critical Twitter posts even though the website is banned in the Mainland.)
The app, which also comes with a hotline, will allow and encourage internet users in China to report others in order to create a “good public opinion atmosphere.”
Offenses the CAC has highlighted include revising history that has been approved by the Chinese Communist Party, criticizing the country’s political and military leaders and their policies, defaming national heroes and historical figures and denying “the excellence of advanced socialist culture.”
“For a while now, some people with ulterior motives … have spread historically nihilistic false statements online, maliciously distorting, slandering and denying Party, national and military history in an attempt to confuse people’s thinking,” said the CAC during its announcement.
“Historical nihilism” is a phrase regularly used in China to describe any kind of doubt or skepticism regarding the CCP’s version of history.
“We hope that most internet users will play an active role in supervising society … and enthusiastically report harmful information,” continued the CAC.
New platform another avenue for controlling Chinese populace
Scott Kennedy, a senior adviser and trustee chair in Chinese business and economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, said the CCP and the CAC are not really concerned with history. This new platform, Kennedy argued, is more about control.
“It’s simply an effort of the current leadership to control the conversation about Chinese history and to limit any debate about interpretations of different events, all with the goal of putting the current leadership and [President] Xi Jinping in the most positive light,” said Kennedy.
There is plenty of evidence to prove that Chinese authorities don’t need this app to control people who supposedly revised Chinese history. China’s internet is already infamous for being one of the most rigidly censored networks in the world.
For example, authorities in the eastern province of Jiangsu recently arrested a 19-year-old after the man posted “insulting” comments online regarding the Empire of Japan’s 1937 occupation of Nanjing, when Japanese soldiers massacred thousands.
Kennedy says the CAC’s new hotline is part of the Chinese internet’s new environment, wherein the scope of what is “permissible debate” is progressively shrinking.
It is not certain how the people of China will react to the availability of the tip line. Kennedy does not expect massive engagement with the line, with people only using it to demonstrate that they are “zealous advocates of the party and Xi.” The platform might also be used to report others for perceived lack of commitment to the party, or even to settle personal grievances.
“Domestically within China, this is probably going to be ignored by most as just something that they don’t want to get involved with,” said Kennedy. “That type of demand for political expression is not something that Chinese want [because] it’s highly risky.”
The CAC did not explain what the punishment would be for people found violating the law through the app and hotline. But legal amendments released earlier this year stipulate that people found “insulting, slandering or infringing upon” the memory and public image of China’s national heroes and martyrs can face up to three years in jail.
People can also already be jailed for posting content online that either questions or criticizes the policies and leadership of the CCP.
Learn more about how the Chinese government is restricting the speech of its citizens by reading the latest articles at Censorship.news.