08/21/2013, 00.00
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Gagging social networks: A 'mission impossible' for Beijing police

by Wang Zhicheng
Hundreds of millions of followers access information and debates on government failures, corruption, social issues and democracy. Most famous bloggers include leading figures in industry and finance. The Party demands obedience of seven rules, including "support for the socialist system."

Beijing (AsiaNews) - State newspapers today reported a police operation against four people who work at internet company Erma, in an attempt to "root out [biased] rumors on the internet." The operation was publicized in newspapers, online sites and even text messages sent to employees of state-owned companies. According to the police, Erma spread [unfounded] rumors about government failures and corruption of its representatives just to gain financial benefits.

The arrest of the Erma employees coincides with a nationwide campaign of arrests of liberal figures - activists, human rights lawyers, dissidents - who continue to accuse the government of corruption and demand political reform.

Concerned about the widespread use of social networks, online discussions and damaging news, the government is trying to put a damper on microbloggers by imposing seven rules: obey the law; support the socialist system; keep national interests at heart; protect the rights of the individual; maintain social order, respect public morality; guarantee the accuracy of the facts.

But the mission of the police is almost impossible: first, because people are hungry for news that does not smack of state censorship. Moreover the wave of information available on micro-blogging sites, with hundreds of millions of followers, has become an attractive market that is almost impossible to dominate

One of those arrested at Erma was Qin Zhihui, accused of "making trouble and operating an illegal business." Previously he was employed by a firm owned by billionaire internet Xue Biqun, of liberal ideas and with 12 million followers on Weibo [the Chinese version of Twitter], on which he wrote under the alias "Xue Manzi."

Xue is a militant supporter of political reform within the Party, along with other liberal billionaires such as Lee Kaifu and Wang Gongquan. Lee has 51 million followers and - formerly manager for Google - offers advice on information technology. But he criticized a new government imposed search engine and last May his blog was blacked out  for three days.

In May, blogger Murong Xuecun (4 million followers) was also shut down, again for expressing differences with the official party line on social issues.

The microblog of real-estate king, tycoon Ren Zhiqiang, with 15 million followers, was shutdown after he criticized government reaction during a flood emergency.

State media defend the government actions and warn against the tendency to follow "Western values", demanding that all social media defend the power of the Communist Party. However, given that  they are considered unreliable by internet users, even state media have resorted to blogs in an attempt to guide public opinion on news and sensitive issues.


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