August 22, 2014:
In addition to monitoring and censoring the Chinese Internet to eliminate anti-government material, China has also been trying to eliminate pornography for over a decade. Now China has gone after the use of rumor and false information campaigns as well as sharing opinions about politics or issues of public interest. The use of rumor and false information have long (since the Internet began to be a major media force in the late 1990s) been used by businesses, and some individuals in China to attack and discredit competitors and rivals. Even government officials will use it against those they are having disputes with, as in other officials, businessmen or foreigners. This sort of thing is more common in China than elsewhere and has become a very rough and unregulated form of media manipulation and public relations. In the last year the government rolled out this new campaign to restrict this bad behavior. The government is prosecuting and making an example of celebrities and other high profile offenders, to ensure that the message gets around. The new rules only allow government approved organizations to do “public relations” work via the Internet. This includes commenting on the news.
This new program went into high gear in early 2104 when China ordered its Internet censors to crack down on what people say on Chinese social media. This quickly led to many local critics (or simply commentators) of the Chinese government disappearing from the Chinese Internet. This does not surprise most Chinese, especially since in 2013 the government finally revealed the number of people (two million) involved in Internet censorship operations. This operation is called Golden Shield (or “Great Firewall of China” in the West) and it’s a huge information control system that has been under construction since for over a decade.
Before the new revelations Golden Shield was believed to have at least 40,000 full time Ministry of Public Security employees dedicated to monitoring and censoring Internet use throughout the country. This was done using specialized hardware and software and lots of paid and volunteer censors. These “irregulars” were known to be numerous but it was difficult to get an accurate estimate. Now the government revealed that irregulars bring the total Internet censorship manpower up to two million. This is for keeping some 700 million Chinese Internet users under control. This is not cheap and over ten billion dollars has been spent on Golden Shield so far. While the Great Firewall cannot stop someone expert at how the Internet works, it does greatly restrict the other 90 percent of Chinese Internet users. And it provides a lot of information about what is going on inside all that Internet traffic. Year by year the Golden Shield operators learned what worked (to monitor and control news and user activity) and what didn't. Not only can Golden Shield keep news from getting out of a part of China but it can greatly limit how much contradictory (to the government version) news gets into all of China. Most of those two million Internet censors are occupied with monitoring new material showing up, especially via Weibo (the Chinese version of Twitter) and blocking anything that disputes the official government line. Weibo is a particular target of the new thought police campaign.