The cyberspace administration of China has announced a new policy that requires all comments posted on websites to be approved before publication.
The new policy is aimed at making China’s internet space safer. The rules are also designed to safeguard national security and public interest as well as protect the legitimate rights and interests of citizens, adding that the public can provide feedback on the regulations.
The policy has outlined requirements for publishers/websites to hire a review and editing team, and a sustainable scale of services to prevent nasty comments from being published online.
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These editing teams will be mandated to review every single comment, and if they come across any comment that is illegal and false, they should not hesitate to report it to the administrator.
Another requirement is the improvement of complaint mechanisms so that members of the public can also report comments they feel deserves attention from the review and edit teams. The policy further requires that sites should verify account holders’ real names, suggesting that actual real-world consequences may follow posting comments that Beijing opposes.
It has been disclosed on the Chinese Twitter-like platform, Weibo, the hashtag “comments will be reviewed first then published”, is said to have received more than 35.2 million views.
Content platforms in China are known to actively censor online posts that are critical of the government which are deemed culturally or politically sensitive. Officials on the Weibo platform disclose that citizens have on countless occasions posted several awkward comments that went rogue, pointing out lies about the government.
This new policy didn’t sit well with Chinese citizens, as they have expressed concerns about this new rule, stating that their online spaces for free speech will be further eroded.
A user on the Chinese Weibo Twitter-like platform expressed his concerns where he stated that such policy is rigid as it wouldn’t make sense to see only one particular voice of opinion on an issue or topic.
In his words, “I can’t imagine what it will be like to see only one particular voice of opinion. Will people think that in real life, there is only a single voice?” the Weibo user wrote.
Looking at the fact that the constitution of China states that its form of government is a “people democratic dictatorship”, such a policy being meted out by the Chinese government shouldn’t come as a surprise at all.
The country’s constitution affords its citizens freedom of speech and press, but the opacity of Chinese media regulations allows authorities to crack down on news stories by claiming that they expose state secrets and endanger the country.
I feel such a policy is flawed, as it violates the people’s freedom of speech online. As much as I think the policy is flawed, I only agree with the part of the policy that requires sites to take down false information and lies about the government. Of course, we know how false news can gaslight so many negative things which are usually done by some unscrupulous people.
What this new policy insinuates is that everything that will be seen on the Chinese online space would be comments that have been hand-picked by moderators, which will make it hard for individuals in the country to have their voices heard, should they suffer harsh policies or unfair treatment from the government.
Nigeria as a case study, the Endsars protest which started with a hashtag on Twitter degenerated into a protest that got the attention of almost the whole world, one can only imagine the outcome if such policies were implemented in Nigeria. The voice of the people will obviously be silenced, and they will be left to suffer without any attention from international bodies.
It is imperative to know that China has one of the most restrictive media, and its government has long kept tight reins on both traditional and new media to avoid potential subversion of its authority.