When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Enjoy unlimited access to quality journalism.

Limited time offer

Get your 30-day free trial!
In Shanghai
In Shanghai
Sheng Chao

BEIJING - An article last month in the Beijing Evening News declared that: “one-third of news going viral on microblogs are rumors.” Referring to a survey called China New Media Development Report, 2013, the article cited the "chaos" of China's microblogging platforms. Since then, this form of media has received a wave of mainstream attention in China.

There are two points in particular worth noting. First, the production and dissemination of rumors is mentioned specifically in the report. No matter what one's stance may be on a particular subject, we can all agree that a rumor is a bad thing, typically spread by people with ulterior motives conspiring to sabotage and disrupt social stability.

Thus the propensity toward rumor would seem to mean that tighter controls need to placed on the world of microblogging. But that would be a mistake: microblogging is just a channel for information dissemination and the expression of views. In itself, the Internet does not drive the production of rumors.

As Harvard Law School Professor Cass Sunstein pointed out on his book On Rumors: How Falsehoods Spread, Why We Believe Them, What Can Be Done, the proliferation of false and damaging information is exacerbated by the precarious and anxious situation in which the people who hear the rumor live. As to whether people believe the rumor, it depends largely on their existing impression of society before they heard the rumor.

Rumors owe their existence to social conditions. The way to stop false information is to find answers from the community itself rather than limiting the scope and means for disseminating information. Open communication channels provide sufficient information about people's situation and their impression of society. This is precisely how we dry up the sources of rumors.

A low-end mirror

Rather than regulating and "cleaning up" microblogging, the authorites should learn to understand the public through this medium.

The survey showed other noteworthy characteristic of the microbloggers: they don't have particularly high education levels, are young and have low incomes. As a matter of fact, low-income and no-income groups make up the vast majority of users of this medium, at 92.2%.

The data gives the impression that microblogging is low-end so that it doesn't represent the complete reality of society. But on the contrary, this is a reflection of the real world. This result also corresponds very closely to the "Inverted T-shaped social structure theory" put forward by Tsinghua University Professor Li Qiang in 2010.

Li's theory says that according to the fifth national census, China's socio-economic status structure of the employed population is similar to an inverted T. The lower group is too large, and the connection of the lower group with other groups is polarized (or at right-angles). The "structural tension" of various social groups has effects across the entire society, which challenges China's social stability in a way that of a "pyramid-shape" dynamic does, making it more prone to conflicts.

Thus we can judge that it is not microblogging that is low-end but society itself. Since microblogging possesses the nature of “We the media,” clearly exposing social conflicts, the occurrence of so-called chaos is unsurprising. Resentment, unwarranted questioning, abusive and offensive remarks, minimizing serious problems and even the generation and spreading of rumors should come as no surprise.

For this reason, placing tighter controls on microblogging will not resolve social confrontations involving false information. On the contrary, it is by reading and understanding the social reality reflected in this form of media -- and then improving conditions in the real world -- that we will be on the right path to a more stable and unified society.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

Coronavirus

Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch

Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling

Shuyue Chen

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

Keep reading...Show less

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

The latest