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Using Internet Principles to Manage the Internet

This is an article on how to manage the Internet, published in Guangming Daily, and reprinted by Xinhua News. It is one of many articles expressing the Party’s concern about maintaining control, given the Internet’s growing influence. The full text of the translation follows. [1]

The Internet as the representative of the new media, has become a strong force to express the public’s opinion, fight against corruption and appeal for justice. A number of incidents have been exposed through the Internet. It revealed the true identity of “Tiger Zhou.” The picture of the rare breed of tiger was actually a fake. The voices of “Web surfers” were heard during the “Two Sessions.” The government dismissed the protagonists in the events of “using public money for massage therapy” and “over priced cigarettes.”  The rise of the new media is both refreshing and shocking.

Few people doubt that the Internet will continue to expand its influence and will play an increasingly important role in our country’s political and social life.

However, the management of the Internet presents a new difficult problem to deal with. Instances of pornography, fraud, and network violence are numerous, seriously polluting the network environment. Law enforcement agencies have not slackened in training and combat, but that has achieved little. Although government departments pay attention to network public opinion, and issue positive and timely responses, most responses are passive, lag behind, or play the role of firefighters. Some officials are deeply worried about the network and find it is difficult to face the surging “network of accountability storm.” In the eyes of some people, the Internet is really a great scourge. It is impervious to reason and difficult to tame. These phenomena show that the traditional management philosophy and management style have lost their roles in the virtual world. The special action of regulating the Internet’s vulgar atmosphere has aroused strong reactions. All social circles actively participate, regard it highly and have marked that a new type of model for Internet management has begun to take shape. The characteristics of this model involve using Internet principles to manage the Internet. That is, in accordance with the virtual world’s basic features and principles, letting nature take its course and guiding the matter along its course can achieve maximum effectiveness.

Managing of Network Information

The management of the Internet, in fact, is management of network information, rather than management of anything human or material.

What is the most fundamental characteristic of the virtual world? The virtual world is a kingdom of information. There is nothing except information. In that world, we can’t see the tangible or the human body. We can only see the information coming forth to transmit people’s thoughts rapidly and to develop people’s relationships. The traditional management model, which focuses on the human body and the tangible, faces frustration and difficulties here. The particular difficulty is that we are facing network information, rather than general information. The most basic characteristic of network information is anonymity. People hide their identity, background, status and reputation to express their thoughts freely and indulgently. Sometimes the thoughts are mixed with non-rational emotions, so it is difficult to judge the authenticity of the information. Another characteristic of network information is that the contents are comprehensive and the numbers are huge. It contains insights and valuable spiritual wealth, as well as pornography, violence and vulgar contents. This brings great difficulty to our management. The third characteristic of network information is its rapid dissemination. At first, net friend post messages, causing many messages to follow, bringing more large-scale views and comments. And then the messages are reproduced by the portal. People use cell phones and instant media to send messages to their friends and relatives and it ultimately leads to a hot spot of social events.

We must manage the Internet effectively and in accordance with the characteristics of the network information. The management of the human and tangible aspects should be classified and the management of network information should be classified too. Different management strategies should be adopted for each aspect. Online harmful information is divided into illegal information, false information, and vulgar information. Illegal information refers to various types of information that are specifically prohibited by the relevant state laws and regulations. False information is contrary to what is true, including disinformation, deception, distortion, etc., part of which can be classified as illegal information, but needs to be distinguished carefully. The so-called vulgar information isn’t popular information, but refers to coarse, immoral interests, and wrong value-oriented information. For the illegal information, combat should be the focus. The strength of the vast numbers of Internet users should be used to report and launch many websites to resist consciously. For the false information, the focus should be on clarification. The government and the media authorities need to take the initiative to stand up, expose the lies, and disclose the truth in a timely manner. For the vulgar information, the focus should be on guidance. The government and the media authorities need to dialog with the Internet users equally through various means, guide the direction of network opinions, and imperceptibly influence the Internet users’ thoughts.

Mobilizing the Public is the Basic Strategy for Managing the Internet.

Limited management forces can’t deal with the rapid dissemination of information when the number is astronomical. In fact, compared with general information, network information can be monitored easily, because it is in full view of the public at all times, and there are lots of piercing eyes. Regulating the Internet’s vulgar atmosphere can result in brilliant achievements, fundamentally owing to the vastness of Internet users’ reports and responses. Under the strong pressure of network opinion, the vast majority of web sites enhance their self-awareness.

In addition, full use should be made of the characteristics of the Internet, using management of the critical node, the psychology of groups and people’s thoughts, and the interaction between virtual space and the real world.

Management of the Key Nodes

The mathematician, Barabas, found that many websites only had a small number online, fewer sites had a medium number online, and very few sites had a large number online. This indicates that the network is dominated by the “many websites who have a small number online.”
If the key nodes that have the most extensive contacts in the network are controlled, it will be easier to control the entire network.

Therefore the emphasis of network information is the management of the key website nodes. From the view of websites, these key nodes are search engines, telecommunications network operators, and mainstream media. They provide the access services, web links and the authoritative information. If these key nodes can be controlled well, the dissemination of harmful information will be greatly reduced. The special action of regulating the Internet’s vulgar atmosphere can result in brilliant achievements, owing to focus on monitoring these key nodes on the Internet.
From the point of Internet users, the key to the node network is "opinion leaders." Some experienced net friends’ points of view control Internet users’ judgment, and guide the direction of network opinions. The main body of China’s Internet users is young people. They don’t have much experience, and are more vulnerable to the impact of opinion leaders. The relevant departments should consciously train the opinion leaders, and make the network opinions more rational and less impetuous.

Virtual communities are having more and more force in the real world. This will, no doubt, launch a major challenge to the administration management. Government officials at all levels should not only be the spectators, but should be the network’ participants. They should not only respond network to opinion negatively, but should be the online opinion leaders. Otherwise, they can’t be competent enough to handle their leadership role in real society. Shanghai is exploring the "double moderator, double entry” mode. Neighborhood cadres, in accordance with the rules, become the community forum co-moderator and dialogue equally with the residents of the virtual community. The original owner is taken to the real community to understand and become more familiar with the situation. Through guiding and leading the community views, the relevant departments need not adopt rigid regulations, so community management will be more effective and humane.

The Guide of Group Psychology

Network information sometimes is full of irrational and violent tendencies, and can even brew into a "network of crises." In this process, group psychology can play a major role. Once a group psychology forms, the individual will lose his reason and sense of responsibility. The individuals will be emotional, impulsive, use extreme language, and have the feature of offensiveness. Using infection and imitation will push the original speech to the extreme until it rises to the level of being out of control. The characteristic of the Internet is interactive. Interaction is two-way and multi-directional, so an emotional state can spread very fast. Because of the impulse, people lose their reason and change from an individual psychology to a group psychology.

Group psychology can be managed in the best, the second best, and the worst ways. The best way is to take preventive measures. According to the “broken window effect,” if a window has been broken, it should be repaired immediately; otherwise more windows will be broken. Because people accept this suggestion: breaking the window is allowed and you will not be subjected to discipline. On the Internet, if a message fulfills people’s expectations, and matches their dissatisfaction, people will automatically believe, go along with it, and thus give positive feedback to make it snowball, developing rapidly to an uncontrollable level. Therefore, when the harmful information just appears, there should be a keen eye to detect it and to clarify or counter-attack in order to hinder the formation of a group psychology. Relevant departments should pay close attention to dynamic network opinion and assess which negative information will reflect a certain class’ voice, if it will spread rapidly, and whether it will lead to a crisis. If the outlook is not optimistic, it will be necessary to join the mainstream of online media, disseminate the truth, spread positive public opinion and refute the wrong views.

The second choice is in the initial formation of the group psychology, when the negative sentiment is spreading, but has not yet translated into concrete action. At that time, the need is to use the French scholar Le Bounty’s three means when leaders mobilize the public: assertion, repetition and transmission. Making a simple and strong assertion is the best way to allow a certain concept to have access to people’s minds.

The worst way is intervention after the situation has expanded. At that time, a great effort will be needed to clarify the truth and also to make up for the resulting heavy losses.

The Citrus incident provides a painful lesson. Last year in Mid-October, the news of Citrus worms was disseminated widely in the community. Rumors started flying. Citrus all over the country could not be sold, and tangerine farmers suffered huge losses.
At present, this last situation is most prevalent for relevant departments that deal with network crises. It had already brewed into the serious consequences before the truth was clarified and the group calmed down.           
(Xiaobai Sheng/ Nanjing Audit University)