China’s Internet control agency presented a new project that will strengthen control of social networks requiring that all comments be reviewed before being published, which generated significant controversy and fear of possible new censorship measures.

The package of measures also hides other critical points that are causing a lot of controversies. For example, if implemented, the user who uploads a publication will be legally responsible for comments made by third parties, which will undoubtedly generate greater fear among users when posting about sensitive issues for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Allegations of censorship under the Chinese Communist regime are long-standing. Critics claim that since the CCP came to power in 1949, it has sought to eliminate any voice that contradicts or opposes the discourse established by the movement’s leaders. 

What do the new regulations say?

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) published last Friday a draft of the new requirements that could come into force soon, detailing that social media platforms in China must have “content moderation” teams in accordance with the scale of service they provide to review all comments before they are published. 

In particular, all types of comments, including original posts, replies, and real-time comments that appear at the top of a video, known as “bullet chats,” will be affected by the new requirements.

There is already a great deal of oversight and censorship over comments and posts on social networks. Still, it appears from this document that the controls could now increase profoundly, going as far as monitoring sharing chats and immediate replies. They will no longer be so immediate if you wait for a supervisor to approve the comment.

Under the current rules, social network users must register with their real identities before leaving comments. 

The method for determining whether a comment should be deleted or sanctioned also remains in force: “disseminating information that disturbs normal order and misleads public opinion,” a broad methodology that opens the game to subjectivities of all kinds.

Online comments since the new censorship proposal became known are overwhelmingly negative, so it is not surprising that in the coming weeks, there will be further announcements and modifications regarding the latest attempt by the CCP to exercise control over the networks.

Chinese regime censors and represses dissenting voices

An undeniable common factor in all leftist regimes in modern history is the lack of freedom of expression. When communism takes power, it does not give space to dissent. On the contrary, it imposes a unique discourse that must be respected. Those who oppose it must keep it in reserve, but under no circumstances can they express it publicly, much less if they represent a media outlet. 

With the development of the Internet in the last two decades, many journalists and ordinary citizens inside China have been able to contact human rights associations abroad, transmitting information and publicizing many of the atrocities committed by the communist regime. 

But on the other hand, the Chinese regime has also used the Internet to manipulate the population, control their behavior and influence their searches, tastes, and preferences. 

In this sense, social networks are accessed by hundreds of millions of Chinese users daily and play a fundamental role.

Chinese social networks are known for persecuting and censoring their users

Social networks in China, increasingly widespread throughout society and in various ethereal groups, seem to function as a fundamental tool of control by the communist regime. 

The regime can use them to study the behavior of individuals while at the same time encouraging the consumption of particular issues or limiting or prohibiting what they do not want to show or make known. 

Several Chinese social networks, including Weibo, the most popular, the Quora-like question and answer platform Zhihu, and the Chinese version of TikTok, Douyin, began in April this year to display users’ locations according to Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, a function that users cannot disable.

The argument for this outrage is that it “aims to prevent users from impersonating locals and spreading rumors.”

Most users understand that it is another measure to try to break the anonymity in the networks, which has generated some courage on the part of the citizens when exposing their criticism of the communist regime. That’s especially so during the last months due to desperation caused by the measures of strict confinement implemented by the regime. 

A study published by Citizen Lab, an academic research laboratory of the University of Toronto, in 2020 exposed how the Chinese communist regime uses social networks such as We Chat to monitor the content of information exchanged between users in China and abroad. It then creates censorship filters in case information undesired by its interests begins to spread. 

Ron Deibert, director of Citizen Lab, was adamant that beyond data security issues, the problem is moral. Deibert said, “I would urge international users to consider that, as you use this platform, you’re actually helping to strengthen digital repression in China.”

Tik Tok: Control through social networks exported worldwide

In the United States, there are still solid legal disputes through which Chinese social networks, mainly Tik Tok, are accused of illegally collecting user data to be reported to the intelligence apparatus of the communist regime. 

Over the past few years, Tik Tok’s app has grown exponentially and brought intense controversies, especially regarding repeated privacy violations. In February 2019, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) forced the company to face a $5.7 million fine for illegally collecting data on children. 

The platform also settled a $92 million class-action lawsuit in February 2021 over allegations that it collected and shared personal information without users’ consent.

In June 2021, the video platform made headlines again when it announced a change to its privacy policy, informing that it would be able to collect biometric data from U.S. users.

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