An article on the front page of the official People’s Daily today serves as a cautionary note to Chinese: the internet is as much a tool of rumor and misinformation as a platform for information sharing, and everyone must be as responsible and law-abiding online as they are offline.
The article, which appears in the “Today’s Topic” column, is at the bottom of the People’s Daily front page. The article is written by “Mo Jinjin,” almost certainly a byline standing in for an official government department.
[ABOVE: In China, those going online should remember there are lines that cannot be crossed, cautions today's People's Daily. Photo by "eviltomthai" posted to Flickr.com under Creative Commons license.]
The People’s Daily article has no new significance as a reflection of the Party’s policy on media and information, but it does serve as a reminder that the internet and social media are now a core focus of media controls in China. The article follows a statement earlier this month by the new propaganda chief, Liu Qibao, that China must research ways to strengthen internet controls.
Perhaps the most interesting line in the article (underlined below) is its admission — a rather moderate position on China’s media control spectrum — that it is “impractical” to expect people always to say the “correct” thing.
A translation of the article follows:
“The Internet is Not Outside the Law” (网络不是法外之地)
December 18, 2012
Page One, “Today’s Topic” column
By Mo Jinjin (莫津津)
“It’s the greatest, but it’s also the most clamorous . . . ” Many people would sympathize with these words as a description of the internet. As a brand new platform, the internet facilitates social interaction, providing information, the sharing of points of views and other things, but at the same time it causes many complications, such as business fraud, malicious attacks and the spreading of rumors.
Rapid development and ease of use, combined with the virtuality and anonymity of the online space, have driven many people to participate online “without giving it any thought.” We must recognize that the online world is not a space beyond the law. Our words online can, whether intentionally or unintentionally, violate the law. Because the damage caused to individuals or to society [by actions online] is not limited to the virtual world. Those who are subjected to fraud, those who are the victims of infringements or attacks, suffer no less than those who harmed in traditional ways.
An open China requires a civilized and healthy online world governed by rule of law. Everyone, whether supervising government bodies or the masses of internet users, must treasure this platform. Demanding that people all use the correct means to say the correct things is not practical, but they must have a consciousness of the law and take responsibility for their words — this is a must. Because regardless of whether online or offline, this is the foundation on which public order and good habits are built.