China’s New Censorship Model
Sina Weibo (commonly described as China’s Twitter with over 320 million users) not only has one thousand content monitors but is hiring.
It’s also created a new rating system to get users to report on each other.
Via the Wall Street Journal:
The system, dubbed “Weibo Credit,” encourages users to report each other for activities ranging from harassment of others to the spreading of “untrue information,” with each negative report resulting in a lower credit score — leading eventually to the public humiliation of a “low-credit user” badge, and possibly even a deleted account.
According to the notice, each user will start with 80 points, with a “low” score being defined as anything less than 60 points. Deductions for spreading false or plagiarized content will be calculated based on how far that content spreads: Fake information that is reposted 100 times or less will result in a two-point penalty, for example, while fake information reposted 1,000 times or more will result in a user losing a full 10 points.
On the flip side, users can earn points by taking steps to verify their identities, like submitting ID card numbers (10 points) and linking their mobile numbers to their accounts (another 10 points).
Over at Slate, Jacob Weisberg writes about Chinese censorship attempts across social media. He notes that the uncertainty over what the state will crack down on, and whether the state will crack down on a particular person, has lead to a “successful” self-censorship model:
For those who might be inclined to challenge the legitimacy of the Communist Party, uncertainty produces a powerful chilling effect. Earlier this year, the dissident writer Zhu Yufu was sentenced to seven years in prison for a poem referring to “The Square,” and some messages sent over Skype. In Beijing, I met with He Depu and his wife Jia Jianying, fearless dissidents recently released from eight years in prison and 18 months in a labor camp respectively for advocating democracy. But such punishment is by no means certain. I had dinner in Beijing with Koonchung Chan, author of a subversive dystopian novel called The Fat Years, whose theme of which is the erasure of the Tiananmen Square massacre from public consciousness. His book can’t be published on the mainland, but Chan hasn’t been punished and speaks his mind with impunity. The ambiguous boundary also applies to journalists and scholars, who can be denied visas or arbitrarily evicted for unspecified reasons, as Melissa Chan of Al Jazeera English was earlier this month.
But Weisberg also notes that self-censorship isn’t quite doing enough. Explicit censorship is having trouble too as some influentials have millions of follows who can track and see what is being done. The Web, after all, is where government cat and activist mouse watch one another other.
But self-censorship no longer seems to be getting the job done. When I visited China in early 2008, the overall conversation was far more constrained; You had to develop a feeling of trust with someone before he or she would criticize the government, especially in any kind of public setting. This time, an entire class of journalism students at Peking University shared their objections to the blocking of websites—and their professors seconded the sentiment. The lone dissenter was a student who came up to us afterward to say that he agreed with the government. One of the interesting moments on the trip came when a professor at another university turned to an official minder assigned to us and said, “Don’t turn me into the Party for what I’m about to say.” He proceeded to suggest that the government should apologize to the families of the students killed at Tiananmen Square…
…In Shanghai, I met another key figure in China’s evolving free-speech landscape, Han Han. A teen heartthrob, novelist, race-car driver, and perhaps the most popular blogger in the world, Han plays a cat-and-mouse game with his censors. When he wants to write something especially provocative, he’ll post it in the middle of the night, or over a holiday weekend, when he figures that a personal censor who plays one-on-one defense goes off-duty. Sometimes Han’s posts get taken down right away, sometimes they’re removed later, and sometimes they’re deluged with negative comments he traces to officaldom. But with more than 500 million visits to date, Han’s blog is too popular to shut down. As he calibrates what he can get away with in relation to the government, the government calculates what it can get away with in relation to him.
Which brings us back to the Weibo credit system of online neighbor monitoring online neighbor. With an exploding Internet population, the Chinese understand they can’t monitor everyone.
Instead, they’re turning to one of the most powerful social systems produced by the Internet yet: Crowdsourcing.
Image: The Sina Weibo logo. Big Brother as a cute eye?