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Articles by the Chinese Academy of Social Science: On Netizens and Unexpected Incidents

The Chinese Communist regime is finding that the “Netizens” in China and their effect on the force of public opinion are becoming a matter of great concern. The influence of Western ideology on China’s youth, for example, may become a threat to social stability. This thinking can be seen in the frequency of articles relating to “Netizens,” and “Internet reactions to unexpected incidents.” Below are translations of excerpts from several recent articles from the official research organization in China: the Chinese Academy of Social Science (CASS). These articles suggest ways of dealing with the free flow of information on the Internet, including spreading cultural propaganda, fighting back against the psychological warfare of western culture, actively attacking western culture in order to reduce its influence, increasing control over the Internet, and managing the reporting of unexpected incidents.

Safety Issues of the (Communist) Culture under the Influence of “Internet Public Opinion” [1] Chinese Academy of Social Science Newspaper, May 19, 2009

Public opinion is often expressed and spread through the Internet. It is an integrated sum of the multiple feelings, attitudes, and opinions of Internet users about all kinds of social and public affairs that they care about or that are closely related to their interests. These public opinions mainly spread through email, BBS, instant messaging, Internet news and follow-up, blogs, podcasts, wikis, and Internet surveys, as well as some social software programs. The spread of public opinion on the Internet is part of the spread of culture. It does not have regional or national borders and it has sped up the globalization of human culture. The most important feature is that by using all kinds of ways and approaches, Internet public opinion presents a different culture, different manners and customs, and different senses of value to people. It indeed opens up people’s minds. However, to some degree it also impacts peoples’ values and conduct that formed during their previous socialization. It causes inadequate adaptation of people’s minds and barriers to their actions.

The freedom and openness of the Internet are creating prerequisites that have never existed before for the spread of diverse culture. The closeness that the Internet has brought to all countries and people in the world is unprecedented. The free spread of Internet information has caused both integration and collision of different cultures. On the one hand, this kind of integration and collision are without any governmental control and have a positive significance. On the other hand however, they also create some degree of threat to the stability and solidarity of our country and society. Especially for those youths who have had little experience with our traditional culture, the national culture has not rooted in their minds. It is highly possible that, influenced by foreign Internet information (mainly Western ideology), our youths will not yet have immunity from it or the ability to discriminate properly. The social mentality of this specific social group is therefore threatened to some degree.

Since the spread of public opinion on the Internet is an important part of the spread of culture, in order to eliminate its influence on cultural safety at its roots, we must start spreading cultural propaganda. As the Internet is developed rapidly, it is crucial to use effective ways to spread cultural propaganda.

(1) Insist on the Strategy of Active Defense regarding the Spread of Culture. To put it in fundamental words, it is to look at the world’s cultural diversity in the right way and insist on the fundamentality of the Socialist culture with Chinese characteristics. We need to utilize the Internet to spread the national culture, and strengthen the national spirit and the cohesive force of this advanced culture. We need to construct an effective system to protect culture and strengthen the force for guarding against and fighting back against the psychological warfare of western culture, expand communication among different cultures, and improve the Chinese people’s psychological endurance and the Chinese culture’s immunity. Also, at the right times and with the right global situations, such as some incidents, we should use cultural attacks to actively attack western culture in order to reduce its influence on us.

(2) Strengthen the (Communist) Party’s Controlling Force over the Spread of Culture in the Macroscopic Picture. First, we need to set clear value standards on the content of the spreading culture. Secondly, regarding the media that cultures spread with, we need to enhance the supervision over the different kinds of spreading tools, especially the Internet. We must strengthen the establishment and reinforcement of laws related to cultural spread so that we can use the laws to crack down on the illegal activities of spreading things through media such as the Internet that harm basic values and that are against common social interests. Thirdly, we need to train a politically strong troop that is proficient in its work, has great discipline, and has a correct attitude to spread cultural.

(3) Make a Great Effort to Boost the Spreading Power of Socialist Culture with Chinese Characteristics. In the past 30 years, as China’s overall strength has continued to grow and international prestige has continued to improve, our culture’s spreading power has improved a lot. It has almost completely spread in multiple languages, with multiple media (radio, newspapers, television, magazines, and the Internet, etc.), and has the charm of “Chinese characteristics.” This not only expands the global influence of Socialist culture with Chinese characteristics, but also to some degree it improves and expands our nation’s strategic interests.

How Internet Public Opinion Spreads [2] Chinese Academy of Social Science Newspaper, May 19, 2009

(1) Interactivity. On the Internet, the Netizens in general show a strong sense of participation. During the process of commenting and giving opinions about a certain incident, there are often many Netizens participating in the discussion. Frequently, it forms an interactive environment, where opinions from two opposite sides both appear and they discuss, argue, exchange opinions, collide, and even clash. This kind of real-time interactive sharing enables different opinions to come out quickly. The discussion is able to get more complete, more in-depth, and more concentrated. As an example, in July of 2008, Yang Jia, the young man from Beijing, killed seven policemen with a knife in Shanghai, and injured 3 policemen and a security guard. Public opinion should condemn Yang Jia’s killing action and the law should strictly punish him. However, on the Internet there were quite some people justifying Yang Jia’s action. Netizens with different opinions argued very intensely over the Internet.

(2) Inaccuracy. Each Netizen as an individual experiences pressure in the real world, and this directly affects what he or she expresses on the Internet. Influenced by all kinds of factors, some of the arguments on the Internet lack reason and tend to be perceptual and emotional. Some people even take the Internet as a place to release their anger. When people have frustration in their lives in the real world, or when they have some biased views about society, they can use the Internet to express anger. Therefore, on the Internet, it tends to be voices that are more vulgar and pessimistic. For example, as the crisis of the world economy continues to expand, some companies in cities along the shores are having trouble paying their workers, and some companies have even declared bankruptcy. The real estate economy also keeps going down. Some Netizens perpetually use the Internet to spread their comments. At the same time, very often the Netizens’ moods can affect each other. Thus, the Internet public opinion is a result of the interaction of individuals’ moods as well as groups of people’s moods. Sometimes it is a reflection of the real situation. However, at other times, it causes a deviation from people’s original opinion. What we must pay attention to is that others can easily echo people’s emotional opinions, and this can therefore lead to harmful public opinions; it can be very seditious and destructive. Take the Harbin young man, Lin Songling, who six policemen killed, as a typical example. [Ed: On October 11, 2008, a surveillance video tape was posted on the Internet showing a brawl in which six plainclothes Harbin police officers beat a young man to death. It was quickly reposted on many forums. Some Netizens suspected the police had suspiciously edited it.] On the Internet, public opinion quickly expanded and the speed with which rumors spread could not have been overseen.

Netizens Gradually Take Over the Role of the Main Body in Expressing Public Opinion [3] Chinese Academy of Social Science Newspaper, May 19, 2009

The Internet in China has grown rapidly in recent years. According to the data from China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), at the end of 2008, 22.6% of people were Internet users in China. It was the first time China passed the global average, which was 21.9%. At the same time, the Chinese Netizen population reached 298 million, which stayed at the top worldwide. The Netizen population is still rapidly growing. The main body of those who participate in Internet sharing is composed of Netizens. They frequently use the Internet to spread and share media, acquire information on the Internet, participate in the interaction on the Internet, give personal opinions, and express their positions on different issues on the Internet. Studying the characteristics of the Netizens since they are the main body on the Internet and analyzing their behavior can help us realize and control the pattern of spreading Internet public opinion and make it better serve the government’s decision making.

The Netizens express many kinds of emotion, attitudes, and opinions. But the center of these is their political attitude.

Since the essence of people’s social political attitude is driven by their concern for their personal interests this, in turn, affects the government’s control and decision making. Therefore it has become the core content of Internet public forum discussions. The Netizens should be managed by the government and they need the government to represent their interests. On the other hand, the government must manage everything through public affairs, using specific plans, policies, laws, and working methods. Whenever these public affairs operate, they immediately touch Netizens’ interests. The Internet provides the Netizens a fast and convenient sharing media for expressing their feelings. They express these emotions, attitudes, and opinions specifically about the nation, the government, or public affairs; therefore they are reflections of the Netizens’ social political attitude.

The Internet public opinion expressed by the Netizens has become an important force for directing and influencing general public opinion.

Internet information can flow globally and freely. It makes “world affairs” become “things next door.” When the Netizens express their opinions, they are no longer limited by regional factors. They can easily share in real time with people thousands of miles away. The quickness, convenience, and interactivity of Internet conversations are quickly drawing Netizens from everywhere and with different voices. Eventually it will form a huge force of social public opinion, draw more attention from society and can even become a great public voice that will influence decision making. Therefore, we cannot overlook the Netizens’ influence over Internet public opinion.

When Netizens use the Internet, they usually follow social public affairs. There is a typical path in the development of each discussion. In many cases, it has continuity, diffusibility, and the ability of gathering a large audience. Communication about public affairs, from beginning to end, will usually last for a while. The Netizens’ Internet public opinions reflect on public affairs and will also go through a beginning, development, climax, fading, and disappearance or residual period. This makes the Netizens’ Internet actions show continuity, diffusibility, and the characteristics of being able to gather a large audience. It is these characteristics that result in some information being able to induce strong reactions, lead to high-level attention from the government, and induce lots of discussions by sectors of the community.

The Safeguard System for Reporting on Unexpected Incidents [4]
Chinese Academy of Social Science Newspaper, May 14, 2009

Leading principle: ensure that reporting is ordered and highly efficient.

Unexpected incidents include natural disasters, accidents, public health affairs, and social security incidents. In recent years, the number of unexpected incidents in China has shown a tendency to increase. Therefore, the news media should not take unexpected incidents as something atypical. Instead, they should take the reporting of unexpected incidents as part of their everyday operations.

First, the system needs to be perfected in order to enable fast reactions to the unexpected incidents. A steering committees needs to be formed to uniformly coordinate the news interviewing groups, technical support groups, and administrative service groups. This way the number of intermediate links can be reduced to ensure the fast reporting of unexpected incidents.

Next, the discipline in reporting unexpected incidents must be very high and strict. The media needs to have specific people to keep in touch with the higher propaganda management branch and convey the direction and spirit from the branch in a timely manner, so that the degree of reporting can be controlled and public opinion can be steered correctly.

Lastly, regular meetings need to be added to the system of reporting unexpected incidents. During the period of the unexpected incidents, the steering group needs to set a time every day to have a meeting with the main people from relevant departments, so that directions from the propaganda management branch can be passed down. The meeting can help everyone to realize shortcomings in reporting and to be clear about the stresses to be reported on and the direction that later reports need to take. Within the meeting, manpower and material resources can be more reasonably arranged and the reporting time and layout can be scientifically adjusted. This ensures an ordered, strong, and highly efficient reporting of unexpected incidents.

[1] Chinese Academy of Social Science Newspaper, 2009-5-19
[2] Chinese Academy of Social Science Newspaper, 2009-5-19
[3] Chinese Academy of Social Science Newspaper, 2009-5-19
[4] Chinese Academy of Social Science Newspaper, 2009-5-14