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China: Too Many Followers or Likes? Intermediary Responsibilities

March 2, 2021

There is a lot of tough love during the time of COVID, and the laws and regulations policing online speech are more stringent than before.

A few weeks ago, several Weibo (the Chinese Twitter) users, including one V-level influencer with more than 2 million followers, were detained for questioning the official death toll in last year’s China-India border military clash. A police statement from Chongqing also warranted an “online pursuit” against a 19-year old man who lives overseas for “slandering” the “deceased heroes and martyrs” on social media platforms. 

Last spring when COVID first broke out in Wuhan, a woman published a long poem on Weibo that juxtaposes a series of "approved" and headlined events in Wuhan hospitals and local communities. Her post was considered disinformation. She was “invited to tea” and eventually sentenced to six-month in jail after the post went viral.

In addition to violating the amended Criminal Code which criminalizes acts that infringe upon the rights or reputations of “heroes and martyrs,” almost all of the individuals were charged with a one-size-fits-all crime “picking quarrels and provoking trouble/寻衅滋事罪” which may be subject to a maximum of ten years in prison with fines. Most cases were prosecuted in secrecy without clear guidelines on due process, both online and offline, as several civil rights groups observe

Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) has issued new regulations requiring bloggers, influencers and content creators on public social media accounts (公众号) known as “self-media (自媒体)” to acquire a government-issued credential in order to publish anything on a host of topics, which came into effect on Monday, Feb 22nd. Other social media categories such as trending charts, hot search lists, push notifications and short video platforms will also be impacted. The CAC did not, however, provide details on what kind of punishment will be doled out for violators, Variety reports

Topic, claim, or defense
Defamation or Personality Rights
Public Order (Includes National Security)
Freedom of Expression
Fake News