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China: Microbloggers meet their maker, but is he the only one?

Microblogs have introduced an unprecedented degree of transparency to Chinese society; some even say they've changed everything.

When the human representative of all that is hidden in China, the supposed father of the country's Internet filtering complex, Fang Binxing, waltzed onto China's largest microblog service provider last month, he got a mouthful and some of rage that apparently boils beneath what Chengdu-based writer Ran Yunfei suggests is a carefully maintained illusion of social harmony, now perpetuated, in large part, by the staff at Sina Weibo themselves, out to make a profit.

Beyond merely staying within the boundaries of government-sanctioned speech, does Ran make the case [zh] that microblogs also serve to curate an alternate version of what China looks like today, or do the many examples linked to above suggest that there isn't much malfeasance which can now take place without the microbloggers finding out?

门户网站新浪秉承其眼球经济策略、不管手段如何把动静弄大的做法,继其在博客中制造八卦话题、招揽一众口水明星,通过点击率和参与人数较多,让人觉得新浪“势不可挡”后,在微博上继续制造社会和谐、生活幸福的假相可谓更上层楼。一大推他们认可的八卦明星、官方垄断媒体的“名嘴”、少数“叶公好龙”的官员,都被他们以VIP的身份尊荣地请来,以使其粉丝人数在微博主导者的干预下暴涨,既满足这些人的虚荣心,也制造新浪微博“新媒体”的人气,同时还恬不知耻地吹嘘自己对推特无所不在的盗版能力。

As portal website Sina pursues its ‘eyeball economy’ strategy, resorting to whatever means necessary to create a ruckus, the formula it perfected through its blog service of manufacturing gossip news by recruiting chatty celebrities—the high click rates and numbers of participants making Sina seemingly “unstoppable”—has now been carried over to microblogs where it has reached unprecedented heights in creating the delusion of social harmony and bliss.

They took a heap of tabloid celebrities they approve of, “mouthpieces” from state monopoly media, and a small number of officials they actually can't stand, and invited them all to join up with the prestige of VIP status; at Weibo management's doing, their follower counts blasted skyward, playing to these people's sense of vanity, establishing Sina Weibo as a popular “new media” at the same time that it shamelessly vaunted its own ability to completely pirate off Twitter.

当然这不是说新浪完全没有自外于推特的“创新”——当然这不是说新浪微博在传播真相方面完全无所作为——新浪微博的“创新”在于一方面欢迎大量的口水资讯,大量保留对中国官方的谀颂信息,一方面又通过严密的敏感词过滤系统,并且运用人海战术般的审查机构,全天候二十四小时值班只为了摒蔽、删除不合官方也不合他们胃口的内容,以便与官方合力打造一个虚假的“皇帝新衣”王国。不唯真正批评政府的声音,大多摒蔽、删除,甚至封掉一些微博持有者的IP。就是偶尔还可发的一点声音,如萧翰的微博,已经“转世”到几十世了。总之,新浪微博严苛的审查制度,使得它的运营一派尽在掌握的“和谐”气象。

Of course this isn't to say that Sina is totally lacking in “innovation” compared to Twitter (which of course also isn't to say that Sina Weibo is completely lacking in regard to disseminating truth); Sina Weibo's “innovation” is, on one hand, in introducing large amounts of tabloid information and largely preserving information pandering to officials, while on the other hand, through the use of a strict keyword filtering system and censorship boards utilizing human wave battleship tactics, on standby 24 hours a day serving only to block and delete content that doesn't suit either their own or the official palate, cooperating with the government in creating an illusory kingdom with “the emperor's new clothes”. Not content just in blocking or deleting the majority of any voices truly critical of the government, even going so far as to ban IP addresses of some Weibo users.

There is the occasional voice that does get through, like Xiao Han on his Weibo, which is now on its umpteenth stage of “reincarnation”. In brief, Sina Weibo's stringent censorship system leaves it running wrapped firmly in a “harmonious” climate.

photo by Flickr user Shi Zhao

正是在这样的背景下,新浪微博隆重欢迎一位他们在精神和技术上的同道、人称中国防火墙GFW之父——其实应该称之为“中国网络监狱之父”,因为他的助纣为虐可不是“防火墙”这样的中性词汇所能表达的,“中国网络监狱之父”的称呼是由杰森的“电子监狱之父”衍化而来,因为我觉得用“网络监狱之父”更准确——的方滨兴来做VIP,以吸引更多的人来崇拜这位阉割中国人信息和精神勃郁的“著名人物”。可是新浪微博与方滨兴本人似乎被自己遮蔽真相的本领给欺骗了,以为所有的中国民众都是天生的贱骨头,不被奴役便无法活下去。不特如此,所有的民众不仅不反对方滨兴们来摒蔽真相、过滤诸多与自己利益息息相关的信息,还要感谢他们摒蔽得如此之好,让我们真正生活在千年未有之“盛世”,生活在一个世界上再也找不到第二个的“和谐社会”。好在中国有越来越多的民众不吃共产党虚假宣传那套,对自己深受奴役的境地,有越来越清醒的认识,在官民的利益和观念冲突越来越严重的今天,方滨兴被邀上微博来“献宝”的确算得上新浪一个失败的名人效应个案。

And it's against this sort of a backdrop that Sina Weibo ceremoniously invited their spiritual and technical alter ego, the man known as the father of the Great Firewall of China—in fact he ought to be referred to as the father of China's Internet Prison, borrowing from Jie Sen's “e-Prison”, because a neutral term like “firewall” just doesn't quite describe the extent of the evil he has enabled—Fang Binxing, to come be a VIP user, and in doing so draw greater numbers to come worship this “famous” person who leaves the Chinese people spiritually deprived and their information castrated.

But, it seems Sina Weibo and Fang Binxing himself have been betrayed by their own skill when it comes to shielding the truth such that they figure that even the bones of Chinese people are inherently worthless, and people are only apt to function when enslaved. And not just that, but they even thought that not only are people not opposed to people like Fang Binxing shielding the truth and filtering out much information which is in their own interest, but that they would even thank him for doing it so well, for having us truly live in such a rarely seen “gilded age“, in a “harmonious society” which has no equal on this earth.

Fortunately, a growing number of the Chinese public are no longer eating up the Communist Party's fantastic propaganda, and are becoming increasingly aware of the circumstances which so deeply enslave them. Today, with the conflicts of interest and values between officials and citizens increasingly severe, inviting Fang Binxing to Weibo as something to “show off” was definitely a celebrity effect failure for Sina.

方滨兴在新浪的窜掇下开了微博,两个小时内固然增长了一些粉丝,更收获无数的狂骂。一些自命有理性洁癖的人,视所有的谩骂为“暴民”特质,弃之如敝屐。我本人固然不赞成滥施谩骂,但在强势集团和官方完全不按牌理出牌,普通民众又没有办法制约他们的情况下,其谩骂有一定的合理性自不待言。换言之像方滨兴这样明知自己所做是助纣为虐,自然就应该知道“出来混总有一天是要还的”道理。方滨兴建议网络实名制、手机白名单制度、以及作为“中国网络监狱之父”的 “伟绩”,其对中国民众信息知情权及相关诸多权利的伤害之大,是无论怎么估计都不过分的。据自由亚洲、新加坡《联合早报》、德国之声等媒体的报道,自从方滨兴开微博两个小时之内,其所遭受的谩骂、质疑、嘲讽、调侃几乎到了“围攻”的地步,这里面饱含着不少网民对方滨兴帮助官方伤害民众利益的愤恨。

Fang Binxing opened a Weibo account at Sina's behest, and within the first two hours while he did of course gain a few fans, he got much more in the way of endless rabid curses. A few people, acting like rational neat freaks, saw all this vituperative as a sign of online bullying, and ran off like they'd come across a pair of dirty socks. Personally, I don't approve of indiscriminate abuse, but with the powers that be and the government making up their own rules, and with members of the public left with no way to keep them in check, it goes without saying that any abuse bears a certain amount of legitimacy. Put another way, with someone like Fang Binxing, who knows well that he's doing evil, naturally he also understands that were he ever to leave the system, that sooner or later there would be a price to pay.

With Fang Binxing having proposed real-name registration for the Internet and a whitelist for mobile phones, and with his “grand achievements” as the father of China's Internet prison, he has done great harm to the public's right to know and many other similar rights, which, no matter how you look at them, are not excessive. According to reports from Radio Free Asia, Singpore's United Morning Paper and Deutsche Welle, within two hours of Fang Binxing opening his Weibo account, he encountered everything from vituperative to questioning, derision and ridicule to the point of being under “siege”, with much of this including netizens’ resentment over Fang Binxing's role in assisting the government do harm to public interests.

[...]

有论者谓方滨兴开微博遭网民狂骂,是网民追求信息自由的标志性事件。其实在我看来,最重要的是让那些助纣为恶的帮凶,意识到自己的为恶会遭到受害者的批评质疑乃至狂骂,当他迎奉政府之需而为恶的时候,自己得好好想一想,将来谁能够保证他不受审判?作恶越多的人,保镖越多,那些天天高喊“为人民服务” 的人,却是最害怕人民的人。不知方滨兴尽情为恶后,其级别会不会上升到出入有很多保镖保驾的地步。我并不赞成对方滨兴用暴力威胁,但他作为“中国网络监狱之父”,给不少中国网民的利益造成很大伤害,却是不争的事实。既然做了恶,要想完全摆脱该得的惩罚,恐怕没有那么容易,只是时间迟早而已。

Some have speculated that the rabid abuse directed at Fang Binxing following his opening of a Weibo account is an incident symbolic of netizens’ pursuit of freedom of information. However in the way I see it, what's most important in this is that is shows those accessory to ‘doing evil’ that their own evil actions will be criticized and questioned by their victims, and they cursed out; and that in the future, when called upon by the government to do evil, they best think it over, lest who will be able to guarantee they themselves won't be put on trial?

Those doing the most evil, those with the most bodyguards around them, screaming “serve the people” day in and out, are actually the people most afraid of the public. With Fang Binxing able to do as much evil as he pleases, who's to say that he won't keep getting promoted to the point where he too can have as many bodyguards and escorts as he pleases? I don't approve of making violent threats against Fang Binxing, but as the father of China's Internet prison, he has done a great amount of harm to many of China's netizens. This is an irrefutable fact. The damage has been done, but to think that you can completely escape any punishment you have coming is, I'm afraid, not that easy. In fact, it's just a matter of time.

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