China’s relationship with social media has been a fraught one. The country’s internet users are among the most active in the world on social networking websites and mobile applications. It boasts some of the most popular messaging apps — WeChat and Sina Weibo for two — that the global mobile community has ever seen. Yet, the government’s approach to the popularity of these apps and sites has been less-than-friendly, to say the least. And the Communist Party has recently taken a new tack towards controlling content on social sites.
It is common knowledge and well-publicized by now that China’s Communist Party has an aggressive stance towards social media. The government has banned YouTube and Facebook, and has reportedly begun using Twitter, in addition to China’s native microblogging apps, to censor content. Last year’s implemented Seven Base Lines serve as the standards through which the government stamps out content across social sites, although many see the Base Lines as a license to block any and all content it sees fit. But Chinese media is now reporting that the Communist Party has launched official accounts on two popular messaging applications, WeChat and Yixin, and that an internal party document issued by the Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee has urged party members to subscribe to the accounts. The media quotes the document, which states that the accounts are “a platform to publicize the party’s policies and disseminate party theory”.
VISUAL CONTEXT: CHINESE SOCIAL APPLICATIONS
In addition to its own accounts, the government issued fresh rules on mobile messaging app content in early August. The new rules require certain registration and abidance by the Seven Base Lines, as well as a few other requirements. There have also been reports that the Party is using Twitter to conduct smear campaigns against the Free Tibet movement, and the now-famous blogger Murong Xuecun for his criticism of the government. Allegedly, the Party creates hundreds of “zombie” accounts that issue pro-government messages in lieu of being able to actually censor Twitter’s content.
Still, despite these quite aggressive moves from the Party, U.S. technology companies have not entirely given up on obtaining a piece of the pie. Facebook regularly lobbies to have its ban lifted; most recently Facebook Vice President Vaughan Smith told a conference sponsored by the World Economic Forum in Tianjin, China, that he is constantly asked about Facebook’s presence — or lack thereof — in the world’s most populous country. Regulators deny that Chinese users want Facebook, and have been vocal about the slim chance the social site has of obtaining any sort of sanctioned presence on Chinese internet. (Many users have found ways around the government’s internet blocks, most using virtual private networks to access banned sites.) As the government is apparently only getting more aggressive about its censorship policies and tactics, the further integration of U.S. social tech and China’s internet seems unlikely.