On January 3, China’s top internet censor — the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) — announced on its website that it has launched a new campaign against “negative and harmful information” on the internet.
According to the CAC statement, the definition of “negative and harmful information” is extremely vague but, at the same time, all-inclusive. Any content that is “pornographic, vulgar, violent, horrific, fraudulent, superstitious, abusive, threatening, inflammatory, rumor, and sensational,” or related to “gambling,” or spreading “bad lifestyles and bad culture” should all be cleaned up.
The latest crackdown will involve websites, mobile applications, online forums, instant message services, and live-streaming platforms — all the internet platforms that one could think of.
“We will carry out vigorous inspections and close down websites and user accounts that are not in line with the laws and regulations,” the statement said.
“Whoever runs the internet platform and should be responsible [for the cleanup]. The internet regulators at all levels and all internet companies should fulfill their responsibilities,” the statement added in an unusually harsh tone. “Those who let illegal behavior go free will not be tolerated but be severely punished.”
The CAC claimed that “in order to respond the public concern over the problematic networks that are rife with various types of harmful information,” the campaign will last for a total of six months.
Meanwhile, the Beijing branch of the Cyberspace Administration has already taken actions. The branch announced that it has summoned executives from Baidu and Sohu, the two largest internet companies in China, demanding that they suspend their news services from January 3 to 10 so as to “root out undesirable content.”
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the crackdown on the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, commonly known as the June Fourth Incident in mainland China.
Over the past 30 years, the June Fourth Incident has always been a highly sensitive subject. The Chinese government has been employing all means to prevent local people from discussing it, not to mention publicly commemorating it. It’s common knowledge that China’s internet suffers an extreme blockage every June 4. During the dates surrounding every June 4, even many VPNs — third-party services that allow netizens in China to bypass the Great Firewall and access the uncensored international internet — may not function properly. The 30th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Incident will undoubtedly stir a greater wave of anxiety and panic among China’s top authorities, for fear that the Chinese public could “make unexpected trouble” on this extremely sensitive date.
The six-month duration of the latest crackdown provides a convenient excuse for the government to control the free flow of information even more fiercely than normal, at least until June 4 has passed.