China’s internet regulator has launched a hotline for citizens to report online comments that defame the ruling Communist Party and its approved description of history ahead of the Party’s upcoming 100th anniversary.
The new hotline will enable internet users to stop the spread of “mistaken opinions” and create a “good public opinion atmosphere” to pave the way for the July 1 occasion, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) said in a notice. People can also send in tip-offs via the CAC’s website and app.
“For a while now, some people with ulterior motives…have spread historically nihilistic false statements online, maliciously distorting, slandering and denying Party, national and military history in an attempt to confuse people’s thinking,” the notice said. “We hope that most internet users will play an active role in supervising society…and enthusiastically report harmful information.”
“Historically nihilistic” information, in official rhetoric, is content that incites doubt about the Party’s account of the past.
The move comes in the wake of recent firestorms of online criticism sparked by nationalist social media users who dug up years-old and often since-deleted remarks deemed slanderous to China from public figures and brands. In the past month, such incidents have engulfed everyone from Oscar frontrunner Chloe Zhao to Chinese tennis champ Li Na, and brands from Adidas to H&M, with flame wars pushed to an ever-higher profile by celebrity participation.
With the new hotline, internet users can flex similar muscles with direct government support.
It will accept four types of content complaints: distortions of history, attacks on the Party’s “leadership, guiding ideology, principles or policies,” the defamation of heroes and martyrs, and “denials of the excellence of traditional Chinese culture, revolutionary culture and advanced socialist culture.”
The CAC notice did not explain what punishments would be in store for violators. China already frequently detains and jails people for online speech deemed politically inappropriate. For instance, last week, authorities in Jiangsu province detained a 19-year-old for his “insulting” online comments about Japan’s 1937 invasion of Nanjing during the Second Sino-Japanese War.
Earlier this year, authorities introduced new legal clauses stating that those who “insult” the country’s national heroes and martyrs can be sentenced to up to three years in prison.
China’s internet is one of the most censorious in the world. It bans most foreign news outlets, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and search engines like Google.
The country’s censors are typically even more active and alert ahead of key political events, such as the key “Two Sessions” legislative meetings each spring or October’s patriotic National Day holiday.