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Study Times: Actively Dealing with Challenges from Information Dissemination through the Internet

The Internet brings new challenges to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on controlling the public. In recent years, information about several public incidents spread quickly through the Internet. People’s opinions on the Internet not only guided public opinion, but also forced the Chinese Communist Party to change its public relations strategy. Dealing with the Internet became a big research topic for the Chinese Communist Party. The following article “Actively Dealing with the Challenges from Information Dissemination through the Internet” was published in Study Times, a magazine published by the Party School of the CCP. Clearly, it is not the viewpoint of any individual. Rather, it reveals the CCP’s thinking on methods to control the direction of Internet media opinion, and to prevent the Internet’s use by domestic and international hostile forces. We translated the full article as a reference.

With the rapid technological development of Internet information dissemination, new Internet media emerge quickly. The pattern of information dissemination in our country is changing profoundly. National security and social stability are facing a real threat and a serious challenge. Adapting to rapid dissemination of Internet information and diligently controlling the power of the Internet to lead public opinion is a significant test on our party’s ability to rule.

The Basic Situation of Internet Information Dissemination and Development

1. The Rapid growth of Internet users changes the pattern of information dissemination

The total number of Internet users in our country has surpassed 300 million people, ranking us first in the world. The popularity ratio has reached 22.6%, surpassing the world’s average rate. But compared to the developed countries (US 72.5%, Japan 73.8%), there is still a big gap and substantial potential for growth. The total number of Internet users increased by 88 million from 2007 to 2008, with daily increases of more than 240,000 people. We can foresee that in several years, the total number of Internet users will continue to grow and surpass half of the total population. The pattern of information dissemination in our country and the social life pattern would change tremendously.

2. The pattern of Internet users is changing gradually and usage is expanding to more areas

For a long time, Internet information dissemination in our country covered primarily cities, developed areas and young people. This situation is changing. In 2008, the Internet users in the countryside reached 84.6 million people, a 68.8% increase compared to 2007, much higher growth than the cities (35.6%). Internet users in the western areas grew very quickly with a growth rate of 52%, much higher than the middle areas (40.6%) and the eastern areas (39.3%). The growth rate of Internet users from the age of 10 to 19 years-old and over 40 years-old surpassed 2007, but that of other age groups has dropped. Generally speaking, the pattern of Internet users shows a growing trend from the city to the countryside, from the east to the west, and from youth to other age groups. In the near future, with the further development of campus and village networks, Internet users will continue to increase in the countryside, in Western areas and among middle school students and elementary school students. The gap between the city and countryside and the gap between different areas and age groups will reduce gradually.

3. The Expansion of web application domains has changed people’s life styles

The Internet provides all kinds of functions, including news dissemination, information search, email, instant communication, community forums, games and entertainment, electronic commerce, Internet finance and so on. The new Internet users entered the Internet world with the ability to use one or a few functions, and then gradually expanded to other application domains. With the constant development of new functions and the expansion of the application domains, people’s life styles as related to study, work and daily life are changing profoundly. At the same time, the corresponding cyber crimes have also inevitably increased. Internet security and social stability are facing new challenges.

 4. Development of the Internet improves dissemination of multimedia platforms

Traditional media such as newspapers, magazines, radio stations, and television stations have established their own websites. Many websites provide one platform with multimedia functions. The combination of traditional media and Internet media has become a trend, pushing the formation of multimedia platforms on the Internet. The Internet media not only disseminate words and pictures, but also disseminate audio and video. The Internet’s digital characteristic enables itself to conveniently connect with digital products, such as cell phones, digital cameras, and digital video cameras and quickly disseminate live audios and videos. If the corresponding government agencies cannot effectively manage the new media nor be able to effectively control the direction of the Internet media opinion, it might be dangerous to have things or messages out of control when significant events occur, and thus have a disastrous influence on social stability.
5. The rise of an Internet opinion community changes how public opinion forms
With its interactive nature, openness, and anonymity, the Internet has become the most active place to express political opinion and participate in politics. It forms an important platform for generating, adjusting, and spreading ideas. On the Internet, some websites, forums and blogs with clear political stances have appeared which have established both "opinion communities" that pay attention to news events and directly express their opinions, and "opinion leaders" who lead Internet public opinion. They display significant strength on public opinion and seriously influence the formation of public opinion and social stability.
6. The development of Internet information technology improves Internet dissemination
Due to the Internet’s convenience, fast dissemination and lack of supervision or approval requirements, the dissemination of Internet information is faster than traditional media. The constant improvement in Internet technology drives the constant progress on Internet information dissemination. The broad-band Internet and the mobile Internet have brought fast and convenient Internet information dissemination. By the end of 2008, broad-band Internet users reached 270 million people, 90.6% of total Internet users; mobile Internet users reached 117.6 million people, a 133.8% increase compared with 2007. With the beginning of the 3G technology era, the advantages of cell phones and notebooks will combine with the 3G mobile networks to reach individual mobile terminals. Mobility and the ease in information flow will bring speed and more convenience to Internet information dissemination. The mobile Internet users might increase dramatically and will certainly seriously impact society.
The Social Effect of Internet Information Dissemination

1. Internet media collects and distributes information and viewpoints, and affects society’s public opinion

Regardless of how much information content or the number of viewpoints, Internet media has surpassed traditional media and has become an important source of public opinion. After some events were disclosed on-line, they caused strong reactions among Internet users, which resulted in the resolution of some things.  For instance, it was revealed that the photo of the Southern Chinese tiger was a fake, the verdict for the case of Xu Ting’s ATM money withdrawal was revoked, the decision to hire the female cadre from the black brick kiln was overturned, the "Peek-a-boo" event was investigated, and so on. Not only positive information was distributed online. Negative information, such as hearsay, rumors and fake news were on there as well. If the Internet is not carefully managed and guided, it will have a negative influence on public opinion.

2. Internet forums stir Internet users’ emotions, which brings about social action

Web user’s true images and identities are replaced with symbols and people are anonymous on Internet forums. They may express their opinions without any concern. All kinds of concepts are collected, mixed and clash, along with harmful and negative opinions. The Internet forums become "opinion markets." The postings become "opinion advertisements." During the forum discussion, people with similar interests and viewpoints easily gather together and form their unique political group. This political group amplifies the Internet users’ opinions and becomes "group rebellion," which leads to the extreme phenomenon of public opinions leaning to one side. The Internet forum becomes the breeding ground for public opinion, and the accumulation of emotion, until social action is initiated; the transformation from hypothesized politics to realistic politics is then realized.

3. Internet communication secretly transmits messages and organizes social networks

The Internet communication (including email and instant messaging) is an important function that is both secretive and quick. Email is easy to use, fast on delivery, easy to keep, and can travel around the world with words, audio and video and so on. It can be transmitted from one to one or from one to many and it dramatically changes the way of information dissemination. While email is convenient for people, domestic and international hostile forces can also use it. In 2008, before the "March 14" incident happened, overseas Tibetans seeking independence transmitted emails with the “proposal for the Tibetan people to revolt" and Dalai’s "March 10" speech, which repeatedly instigated people.

4. The Internet has a strong search capability for related information and identifies social roles

Search engines like Baidu, Google, and Sohu have strong information retrieval functions and can instantaneously search tens of billions of homepages for related information, which brings great convenience to study, research, work, and life. In 2008, the number of search engine users reached 203 million people, an increase of 51 million people and a growth of 33.6% compared to 2007. The search engine has become a very important method for Internet surveillance. When the picture of a director of a bureau from Nanjing, smoking very expensive cigarettes, was exposed on the Internet, he was quickly identified and he got what he deserved.

5. The views spreading via blogs on the Internet will impact society’s mainstream views

Internet blogs are the fastest growing media in recent years. Writing a personal blog is forming a new cultural phenomenon. The popularization of Web2.0 "de-centralized" the information exchange in a nonlinear way, has broken the restrictions on web publishing and eliminated links among Internet users.  Now each user can be an initiator of any information stream, everyone can be a journalist, a writer, and an editor for their own publications. Not only have many websites created various types of blog channels, but there are also many special blog sites. In 2008 China had 162 million blog writers, of whom 105 million updated their blogs in the past six months. Views spread through the blogs have been and will continue to influence mainstream society’s thoughts.

6. Websites became platforms for organizing social activities

Dating sites and online communities have enabled users to organize into different groups. They offer platforms for people with similar interests to organize group activities (such as hiking), and this has greatly enriched netters’ lives. Websites also offer effective ways for people to organize collective petition activities. In February of 2009, former employees of the Guangxi banking system who were forcibly bought out used the Internet to organize a large-scale collective petition in Beijing. The organizers not only released the time of action, routes, secret codes, and back-up plan via the Internet, but also arranged interviews with foreign journalists to cover the petition. The Internet communicates information quickly, widely and efficiently, making it very convenient to organize large-scale activities.

Suggestions on Strategies to Strengthen the Establishment and Management of Internet Applications

1. Change ways of thinking, strengthen and improve the CCP’s leadership on the Internet

The Internet has become an important channel for its users to express opinions, interests and emotion. It has also become a new platform for the CCP and government to learn public opinion, pool people’s wisdom and better manage state affairs. CCP leaders of all levels should fully understand and pay great attention to the importance of the Internet. The Internet is a flat networking world; it is difficult to use the traditional bureaucratic method to manage the flat network. We should change the traditional way and establish a modern way of thinking, considering a flat strategy to manage the flat network. Our leaders should enhance Internet awareness and improve the quality of information exchange; we should learn how to utilize the Internet for our work. In particular, we must fully understand the current highly complicated and very serious situation on the Internet, enhance a sense of urgency and a sense of crisis, we must actively occupy the Internet frontier, and firmly control the initiatives on the Internet. We recommend issuing a document within the Party to provide guidelines for Internet management, unify our Party members’ thinking, strengthen and improve the CCP’s leadership on Internet control, and continuously improve our establishment, utilization and management of the Internet.

2. Speed up and perfect legislation and regulations of the Internet system

Currently China has "Computer Information Systems Security Protection Regulations," "Computer Information Network and the Internet Management Provisional Rules," the
"Electronic Signatures Law of the People’s Republic of China," and other laws and regulations. The NPC Standing Committee promulgated Decisions on Safeguarding Internet Security, the criminal laws added provisions against computer and cyber-crimes.  However, the legislation cannot keep up with the fast growth of Internet development. Our legal system is not complete; the provisions are not detailed and are difficult to execute. We need to strengthen the legislations on Internet activities based on our existing laws and regulations. Since Internet management involves many departments, we need to consolidate views of each unit and let a relatively detached department take the lead in legislative efforts. Our legislation should be based on China’s specific conditions, in order to develop and improve China’s Internet legal system with Chinese characteristics. One important principle for Internet legislation is to balance the state’s power and citizen’s civil rights. Our system should be able to refine and strengthen Internet monitoring, and control, and maintain order on the Internet, while avoiding over-regulation and restrictions of citizens’ freedom of speech on the Internet. At present, we need to particularly strengthen the protection of citizen’s civil rights, and severely punish rumors, insults, and slander on the Internet.

3. Treat the Internet as a propaganda frontier; strengthen the building of mainstream websites

We should focus our efforts on building important websites such as,, and other major news sites. We must seize control of public opinion, be the first to release major breaking news and become the main force in guiding public opinion on the Internet. We should also excel in establishing websites for each department of the central government, publish timely authoritative information in accordance with the regulations of government information publication, and host good “online Q & A” to serve Internet users and eliminate their doubts. In addition, each level of local government should allocate resources to establish good local government websites, timely update information, and expand their impact on local society; local government websites should maintain a high degree of consistency with the Central government on politics. Each college and school should establish and manage good campus websites to meet students’ Internet access needs, attract students back from less managed off-campus Internet cafes, and educate students to use the Internet in a legal, healthy and secure way.

4. Build a good Internet opinion guidance team

Publicity departments should integrate resources and increase the size of the Internet propaganda team, improve training of existing staff and attract high-quality talent with better rewards in order to build an Internet commentator team. We need to train more influential blog/Internet writers, and have them use their posts to guide public opinion on the Internet. We should allocate our resources to different Internet media bodies; develop different teams for news websites, web forums, blogs and chat rooms, and have our propaganda guidance penetrate into every link of information flow on the Internet. Our team members must change their language and communication habits, be good at using simple and vivid net language to communicate with net users, and avoid using traditional official language and an arrogant attitude when dealing with Internet users.

5. Improve system equipment and Internet monitoring technology

We need to increase funding for Internet management technology and equipment, in order to ensure that the Internet monitoring equipment keeps up with the development of communication technologies. We should speed up our research and development, in order to break through key technologies, such as information filtering, firewall and access control technologies, identification technology, and control and detect technologies. This way we could quickly form a high technologic, fully functioning, reasonable allocated nationwide Internet monitoring network, making sure our monitoring level is the most advanced in the world. We should train and attract high tech talent for this purpose, providing them with good pay comparable to similar talent in the community, in order to make sure our Internet management technology does not fall below the level of the community. 

6. Strengthen Internet management, and nurture a favorable environment for its development

The virtual community is a reflection and microcosm of actual society, we should adhere to the principle of managing on-line and off-line at the same time. We must combine administrative measures and economic rewards to make the website responsible for its own management, guiding commercial online media to follow the rules. We should also establish and improve an incentive mechanism to encourage net users to report damaging information, and involve net users in Internet management. This could help us detect damaging information quickly and eliminate the impact efficiently. We should reward the net users who report to us. Internet management involves the departments of publicity, culture, broadcasting, communications, public security, national security and many others. We must insist on the principle of every department being in charge of their part of the responsibilities of Internet management, in order to build a unified, authoritative, coordinated and efficient management system and operational mechanism. We should strengthen communication and integrate all resources, in order to manage efficiently and create a synergistic, favorable environment for Internet development.

[1] Study Times, May 4, 2009