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Bloggers need social awareness

It will be some time before it is clear what effect new internet rules will have on opinions

Bloggers need social awareness
Yixiu Qingfeng, Beijing

April 4, 2012

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Real-name registration for weibo (microblog) users has been required in China since late March. I have spent a few days learning from a thousand of my friends who use QQ (an instant messenger system commonly used in China) about how they use social media. My study is not authoritative but it at least sheds some light on the situation. Ninety percent of my friends are Catholics. Several hundred of them have a weibo account and the majority are in their 20s. Mostly, they share their feelings, post notices of group events, or re-post interesting content on their weibo, but rarely made comments on public affairs. The few which do comment actively on topical issues mostly have experience in getting around the “Great Firewall” and have a stronger sense of social concern. Those who are indifferent to the registration rule have never tried to get around the firewall. They think with the same logic that putting your real name to blog is a must like when applying for a credit card. Some even think it give some discipline to the cyber world. There is also a common phenomenon linking the 70 Catholic chatrooms that I joined. Few people pay attention to current affairs. When someone brings up such a topic, others often reply with: “Be patient. Let’s pray” or “What’s the use in saying this? Let us do our part first.” Those who fight against injustice become alienated in chatrooms. Maybe that is why we seldom see mainland Catholics speaking out for justice on weibo. The Catholic Church has its social teachings. When facing injustice, however, we Catholics in China basically do nothing because in the first place, the country forbids you to do anything. Our Church, which is preoccupied with its internal problems, has no time to spare on other things and Catholics also rarely develop a sense of social awareness. I am not here to judge who is right and who is wrong. It rather depends on individuals’ enlightenment. It is also true that it is hard for an individual to do anything under such suppression. Last year, weibo saw substantial growth of 208 percent in China. This is good news for the opening up of the internet network in the country. The speed that news spreads and the enormous effect weibo creates, allow more bloggers to learn more about what is really going on instantly. When certain incidents take place, their explosiveness often catch authorities off guard, breaking down their existing management model while exposing defects in the social control system. The authorities know that if weibo spins out of control, it could seriously affect the regime. Therefore, the real-name rule was introduced under the pretext of preventing the dissemination of rumors and harmful information. Many active bloggers regard the registration rule as another method of achieving so-called “social harmony.” A friend of mine said sarcastically: “If we do not use our real names, we will easily forget that we don’t have privacy. Registration is to remind us that we are under surveillance.” In my view, registration is not a problem. Rather, the problem lies in the fact that those who do not register with their real names can only read and are not allowed to make comments. In other words, they are deprived of their freedom of expression and this violates the basic right of free speech protected by the constitution. It is not only China that has rumors, but only a few countries adopt measures to suppress citizens’ rights. What is meant by rumor and harmful information then? Who makes this judgment? Who can guarantee the authorities are not considering their own interests when making a decision? We should not forget that many citizens have a confidence crisis with regard to the authorities. What would happen if one day I carelessly mention a particular incident on my weibo? Who knows when people will get themselves into trouble for casual comments? The registration rule seems to have had little impact on Catholic bloggers. However, it has a profound effect on the development of the internet and of the country’s democracy. Thus, it affects every one of us. Only with freedom and democracy, can we have real religious freedom. Yixiu Qingfeng is the pen-name of a Catholic webmaster in China  
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