It took China’s internet censors weeks to crack down on the internet after the rumors surrounding the now disposed leader Bo Xilai started to make their rounds. But that should not be seen as a trend towards liberalization, tells internet watcher Jeremy Goldkorn Bloomberg.
Even as Beijing once again asserts its heavy hand over the Chinese net, many are wondering why it waited so long. Indeed, more notable than the latest crackdown has been the surprising openness allowed over the last month. That’s not to say there has been any liberalization trend however, argues Jeremy Goldkorn, founding director of Beijing-based Danwei, a China Internet and media research firm that publishes at danwei.com. He points to the new rule that bloggers must use their real names to register, only partially enforced to date, as proof of a counter, tightening trend.
Rather the relative looseness seen recently is due to the substantial challenge Beijing authorities face in monitoring the world’s largest Internet population. China has 485 million Internet users and 300 million registered microbloggers, according to Zhang Xinsheng, an official from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, as reported by Xinhua news agency late last year. “This is more because it has become a Sisyphean task to monitor the Internet,” says Danwei’s Goldkorn, pointing to how difficult it is for censors and software to keep up with the evasive tactics, such as the regular use of puns and homonyms by China’s netizens…
At the same time, it appears the Internet has become a battleground for different factions within China, or more specifically, for those wishing to bring down Bo during the unfolding scandal. “It is true they did not clamp down on the Wang Lijun and Bo Xilai rumors at first. Some of the stuff that was spread online seemed to be allowed in order to blacken Bo Xilai’s name,” says Goldkorn. “I think Bo’s enemies have used the Internet to hasten his downfall.”
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