Without matured legislation restricting press freedom online, people not only complain, but also fabricate stories to vent their resentment on specific issues. When the tendency is accepted by more than 400 million netizens with the other 900 million more watching aside in one country, no government can afford not to respond quickly to address people’s concerns on the one hand and pass laws and strengthen its supervision of online activities on the other hand.
Chinese government are keenly responsive to opinions on the Internet. Any criticism based on fact can get quick feedback thanks to the efficient governance system.“It is not necessary to catch the public’s attention and mount pressures on the government through fabricating stories and demonizing the government”, argued Dou Hanzhang, founder of Beijing-based Anti-rumour Union. His organization refutes some fabricated stories circulating online on problems of the rescue work of train accident in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province.
The Internet is a welfare for Chinese. Netizens should protect carefully to maintain an effective channel of communication between government and civil society. Although some social problems are not solved in real life, complete denials of the government on the Internet cannot reflect the factual progress of Chinese society, said Dou.
It is true that criticism has been deified on the Internet in China, forming a wired spiral of silence in which criticism goes to extreme and any other different voices are derided, vilified and muffled at last.
Dou pointed out: “If a foreigner only logs on the microblog to learn something about China, he or she will find this is a hopeless society.” But everybody knows that it is not true actually. To make things worse, some influential traditional media transfer these unverified gossips irresponsibly and casually just to catch eye balls.
Dou also pointed finger at some opinion leaders, say public intellectuals, who keep silent on purpose over some obviously fabricated stories. However, Zhan Jiang, a professor of communication studies at Beijing Foreign Studies University, presents a different angle of observing microblog and rumours. “The microblog has self-correction and self-purification functions. Most fabricated stories are finally corrected. No fallacies can survive too long before they are replaced by true information.”
Wikipedia, as an example, is claimed as liberal and free and has won worldwide approval after long term maintenance, edits and supplement by netizens, although its founders worried about its quality in the beginning.
Zhan also raised some other questions in defending a liberal online environment. “How much information on the microblg is fabricated? How much is true and constructive for meaningful discussion? How many serious consequences can be caused if the fabricated stories are not verified by the so-called rumour fighters? Does traditional media have less untrue stories than the Internet?”
John Milton realized public opinion had self-correction ability more than 300 years ago and he believed the truth can finally win out in competition with fallacies. British philosopher John Mill and Karl Marx both believed that it was absurd for book and newspaper examinants to decide if one expression is true or not. Zhan echoed: “The right to say and the right to criticize bear the same nature as knowledge activity, which should not be politicized.”
In a society with well-protected rights to say and to know, people’s activity on the Internet is projection of their real life. On the contrary, in a society without equal distribution of communication channels, especially among the huge bottom groups, the Internet becomes the supplementary set for their real life naturally.
Admittedly, it is necessary to supervise and control microblog properly, which is good for social development. The British government’s control of new media during its nationwide riot is just a case in point. Microblog develops too fast in China to be examined and verified by the authority or operators. Both the government and operators must something to build a healthy microblog environment together.
The operators should maintain a good balance between their profits and roles as public service providers. Develop a matured management system and set rules on their own platforms to promote a healthy and constructive online environment will attract more customers finally.
China has not made its press laws till now to define and punish slanders. Chinese lawmakers should step up their efforts to provide the basic legal framework to detain the intentional slanders on the Internet.
And the government should desert its outdated ideological and political working method in meeting the public’s demands to know and to say and adapt to the new media landscape of the information age. As long as the authority discloses the right information at the right time, there will be no opinion space and time left for gossipers to fabricate and spread false stories at all.