April 19, 2024

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Following Massive Protests Against COVID Policies, Chinese Government Again Ramping Up Its Censorship Efforts

from the pushing-back-against-the-pushback dept

A deadly fire in an Urumqi apartment complex has led to something rarely seen in China: massive protests across the nation against the Chinese government’s actually draconian COVID restrictions. Most of the city of Urumqi is on lockdown, with residents banned from leaving their homes. These restrictions may have contributed to the death toll. Witnesses (and one video) claimed lockdown barriers prevented fire trucks from getting to the scene of the fire.

Elsewhere in the country, people have been forced to sleep at work due to quarantine conditions. Others have been bused from their homes to quarantine facilities. Meanwhile, COVID numbers continue to climb, suggesting the recently instituted “zero COVID” policies aren’t actually addressing the problem.

Starting in Urumqi, protests soon spread across the country. Faced with open expressions of anger, the Chinese government is reacting the way it always reacts when it is faced with dissent: by increasing the footprint of its jackboot.

Internet and phone use is heavily regulated (and heavily surveiled) in China. Whatever was already working is being intensified. And whatever hasn’t been applied yet is being put into motion. No longer will it take creating or sharing content the government doesn’t like to earn police visits, criminal charges, or both. Now, as CNN reports, it will only take a nearly passive sign of approval directed at content the Chinese government dislikes to attract the government’s negative attention.

Internet users in China will soon be held liable for liking posts deemed illegal or harmful, sparking fears that the world’s second largest economy plans to control social media like never before.

China’s internet watchdog is stepping up its regulation of cyberspace as authorities intensify their crackdown on online dissent amid growing public anger against the country’s stringent Covid restrictions.

The new rules come into force from Dec. 15, as part of a new set of guidelines published by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) earlier this month. 

The Chinese government would prefer an airtight stranglehold, and this is just some expected tightening of its grip. As the government has certainly noticed, the more it tries to censor, the more creative citizens are when circumventing the efforts. Rotated videos, screenshots of content, coded language, unexpected communication platforms… all of these help keep citizens one step ahead of the censors.

So, the rules continue to roll out. And they get more extreme with every iteration.

The regulation is an updated version of one previously published in 2017. For the first time, it states that “likes” of public posts must be regulated, along with other types of comments. Public accounts must also actively vet every comment under their posts.

However, the rules didn’t elaborate on what kind of content would be deemed illegal or harmful.

This vagueness is a feature, not a bug. You’ll know you’ve violated the new rules when uniformed officers swing by the house to inform you that you’ve violated them. The solution is to stop liking other people’s posts: winning by not playing.

But there’s an upside to China’s ever-expanding censorship programs, especially when they’re trailing ever-expanding dissent. Even China’s massive surveillance apparatus can’t possibly hope to catch them all.

However, analysts also questioned how practical it would be to carry out the newest rules, given that public anger is widespread and strict enforcement of these censorship requirements would consume significant resources.

“It is almost impossible to stop the spread of protest activities as the dissatisfaction continues to spread. The angry people can come up with all sorts of ways to communicate and express their feelings,” Cheng said. 

The Chinese government has the power. But it also has billions of people to keep an eye on. Dissent will never be completely silenced. And as long as that’s true, there’s still hope for the nation.

Filed Under: censorship, china, covid, free speech, intermediary liability, internet, protests