China Cracks Down On Internet Freedom Following Scandals
December 27, 2012

China To Crack Down On Internet Freedom Following Embarrassing Scandals

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Though it might sound unexpected, the Chinese government has come under scrutiny this year as a result of some online missteps. As a communist country, China works to control what is published about its government and political figures. However, if we´ve learned anything during the last five years in America, it´s that news travels fast and unencumbered via Twitter. The same can be said of China´s own microblogging service, Weibo.

Earlier this month, a hole opened up in what´s known as the Great Firewall of China, allowing users across the country to search through posts which would have normally been censored. This opened up the government and its politicians to plenty of criticism, ranging from serious to silly.

Now, it seems Chinese officials have made up their mind and will begin making moves to crack down on Internet censorship once more, according to the Wall Street Journal. Earlier this week, senior members of China´s National People´s Congress began looking into a new bill that would require all Chinese Internet users to list their real name. According to the news source Xinhua, the new bill has been designed to protect personal information.

That the bill is being discussed at this level of the Chinese government means that it is likely to be set into action once it moves through the system. In addition to forcing its citizens to use their real names on the Internet, the new law could also prevent foreign companies from publishing anything on the Chinese Internet. As reported by CNET Asia, these rules are already in place, but regulators have been hesitant to enforce them. This new law, however, could give them all the motivation they need.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, David Wolf of Wolf Group Asia has said the new bill seems to be the direct result of the number of scandals involving Chinese politicians which have recently been uncovered and shared via Weibo.

"The recent measures appear to be steps taken in a bid to ensure the primacy of the party's messages to online audiences in the same way it has accomplished that with traditional media," said Wolf.

Some of these scandals involve affairs and the misuse of government money. For example, Lei Zhengfu, an official from the city of Chongqing, was videotaped having sex with a “much younger” woman. This videotape was then later leaked online, leading to Zhengfu´s dismissal from his post. Zhegnfu denied he had been the one in the video, claiming it had been edited with Photoshop to make it appear as if he were having sex with the young woman.

The Wall Street Journal also mentions another case where officials were asked to step down after activists discovered that they owned luxury items, like expensive watches and large homes that their government salary could not afford them.

“The question is whether they're really protecting personal information, or whether it goes beyond that," asked David Bandurski, a researcher at Hong Kong University´s China Media Project, speaking to the Journal. Though they wish to control what news is spread in China, Bandurski also warns that such measures could greatly inhibit the rise of development in the Internet sector.