In the latest piece of proof that you’re just not allowed to say some things on China’s internet (especially if they’re rumors), Chinese police have arrested four Weibo users for a variety of internet crimes that include spreading rumors and gaining illegal profits. The arrests were publicized in the People’s Daily, and the government is clearly quite interested in spreading the message that the wrong sorts of speech online will not be tolerated (earlier this month numerous internet celebrities agreed to censor themselves at a major meeting hosted by government authorities).
The users, who went by ‘Qin Huohuo’ and ‘Lima chai’er’ online, appear to have inspired an official response to their online endeavors when they mocked Lei Feng the Chinese propaganda hero who’s probably mostly made-up but still revered in China, at least by the government. Then, when investigating the men behind the online monikers, police discovered that their online promotions company was allegedly profiting illegally. From the People’s Daily:
Not long ago, information that serously harmed the image of Lei Feng was rapidly transmitted across the internet, and Lei Feng’s glorious image was quickly brought into question for a portion of internet users. Some web users reported these rumors to the Beijing police and requested a thorough investigation into the people who were creating rumors harming Lei Feng’s reputation. Beijing police began work immediately, and through meticulous investigation of ‘Qin Huohuo’ and ‘Lima chai’er’ [discovered that they were] using special internet strategies to create internet ‘incidents’, intentionally creating and disseminating rumors, maliciously harming the reputation of others, and [through this investigation] their illegally-profiteering internet promotions company also came to the surface.
To be frank, these guys sound like scumbags. But it’s hard not to wonder at the irony of Beijing accusing people of fabricating rumors about Lei Feng, a man whose life story is full of half-truths, exaggerations, and full-on fabrications perpetrated by — you guessed it — the same government that’s now arresting these Weibo users. If untrue online rumors about Lei Feng are harmful (and I agree that they are) shouldn’t the police also be investigating the people in the propaganda department?