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China seeks 'purification of the online environment'

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 20th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

China has recently engaged in some Mao Tse-Tung-like coercion upon its social media stars. These bloggers and Internet authors, who boast of large English-speaking followings along with other faithful western readers, have depicted a less than flattering portrayal of their homeland - and as such, have been put in compromising situations, as if serving as a warning for those who try to do likewise.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - This crackdown has targeted some of the biggest personalities on Sina Corp.'s popular Weibo micro-blogging service. Charles Xue, a Chinese-American venture capitalist with more than 12 million followers on his site, has been openly critical about his nation's toxic food, high prices and low wages.

"We have all become 'people who tolerate,'" he posted. That phrase was re-posted by his followers more than 17,000 times and received more than 2,000 comments.


Known online by his pen name Xue Manzi, he was arrested on charges of soliciting a prostitute last month. Many other Internet users have interpreted this incident as a warning to other social-media stars.


China Central Television broadcast Xue handcuffed and unshaven - but in good spirits at a Beijing detention center.


"Freedom of speech cannot override the law," he said. Xue remains in detention on the solicitation charge. He has not been charged with anything related to his online activities.


China's current efforts in the repression free speech and information is all part of a wider, more systematic and more strident campaign. The future of public discourse in China and the commercial environment for its Internet firms is at stake here. 


This war against influential Internet users has cast a chill over public debate in China. It has called into question the long-term viability of Internet social media here.


Beijing has detained or interrogated several high-profile social-media figures, issued warnings to others to watch what they say and expanded criminal laws to make it easier to prosecute people for their online activity. Officials have euphemistically described these effort as part of an attempt to seek "the purification of the online environment."


A limitation on political discussion on Sina Weibo threatens to scatter users away from the country's most vibrant venue for public discourse into smaller virtual meeting places.


Users have since moved from Weibo to more private exchanges on Tencent Holdings Ltd.'s mobile messaging app WeChat, which has drawn less oversight from authorities.


Some activists who use the service say they have been tracked. An activist who took part in protests against the censorship of Southern Weekly in January, a popular newspaper known for its hard-hitting investigation into social issues, told The Wall Street Journal he believed he had been tracked by his activities on WeChat. 


The man said he was detained by police for a day at a location not near the protests after discussing his plans to join the protest over WeChat. 

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