Chinese internet celebrities agree to self-censor

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chinese-censorshipBetween Sina Weibo and Tencent’s WeChat, Chinese social media has an absolutely massive number of users. And since the power users on those services have tens of millions of followers, they actually hold fairly influential positions when it comes to public opinion. For this reason, the government got a number of China’s web celebrities together on Saturday for a meeting at the headquarters of CCTV, China’s state-run television network, to discuss how to best to use their positions in a way that is helpful to society.

According to a very brief report on the meeting in the People’s Daily (our translation):

Everyone agreed that internet celebrities should take on additional social responsibilities [so] the group reached a common agreement to protect “seven minimums”: the first is the legal minimum, the second is the socialist minimum, the third is national interest minimum, the fourth is the lawful citizens’ interests minimum, the fifth is the public order minimum, the sixth is the moral traditions minimum, and the seventh is the accurate information minimum.

Obviously that’s all a bit vague, but the meaning is that internet celebrities are being encouraged to post only messages that meet all of these minimums. So if a message goes against China’s “moral traditions”, for example, or could theoretically threaten public order, then it shouldn’t be posted. And while this is just the result of a discussion (sort of, Global Voices writes that the seven minumums were written by a government official with the IIO and merely signed-off on by the celebrities in attendance) and not any kind of enforceable law, it has already rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. According to Global Voices, internet celebrity and real estate mogul Pan Shiyi attended the discussion but questioned its conclusion, saying (Global Voices translation):

People should not be considered a passive subject who need to be educated or channeled. […] I don’t think [online celebrities] should be responsible for lifting people’s morality. It won’t work.

On weibo and online comments, there seems to be a lot of support for the “seven minimums”, although in these cases it’s difficult to tell how many of these commenters are paid “opinion managers” and it’s impossible to know how many dissenting posts on this topic have been deleted or otherwise hidden. Global Voices cites several high-profile commenters as being rather suspicious about the event and its conclusions, and there are of course some paradoxes inherent in these guidelines as well: what if what’s best for national interests goes against the tenets of a socialist society? What if what’s best for national interests requires microbloggers to post a story that isn’t accurate?

In the end, the seven minimums are probably best understood not as a series of directives but as a reminder — both to us and to the celebrities themselves — that China’s government is watching, and it is very interested in what gets said on social media. Asking internet celebrities to become pillars of socialist public morality is probably a bit like asking cats to get together and perform a tightly-choreographed cabaret number: it ain’t happening. But little reminders like this news do keep people conscious of the fact that someone is watching what they’re saying and the consequences could be unpleasant if they say the wrong things.

(People’s Daily via Global Voices)

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