And Finally

Culture clash

Around 200,000 absusive complaints flood ministry’s new weibo page

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The internet can be a cruel and vindictive place, as many politicians, celebrities, and even regular people have found. Last week, some fresh meat entered the fray.

On October 15 the Ministry of Culture launched its official weibo account. In its maiden post, the ministry addressed its “online friends” and announced: “We look forward to everyone’s support and following.” But they did not receive the support they were hoping for.

Almost immediately a torrent of hostile posts were directed at the ministry, leading the ministry’s weibo censors – well practiced in the art – to put their delete buttons into overdrive.

The initial flood saw over 200,000 abusive comments posted; this level subsided to 20,000 after the censors purged the majority, but then surged back to over 140,000 when netizens counter-attacked. Some internet users suspect this could be the most-commented on weibo post ever, but as of this week the thread was quelled altogether.

The Ministry of Culture has never been particularly popular. Over the years its role has remained largely unchanged: to promote Chinese cultural and artistic activity. More recently it was also put in charge of clamping down on the weirder elements of modern Chinese behaviour, such as the fad for employing strippers at funerals.

Its weibo debut finally meant internet users could tell the ministry exactly what they think of its work. One post, which had over 10,000 likes, lamented “You want to control what I read, you want to control what I watch, you want to control which websites I visit… but you don’t care about the food I eat, or where I live, or when I’m sick, or when my kids can’t go to school. Everything you ought to care about you don’t and everything you oughtn’t to care about you [expletive] do!”

Some netizens did try to offer the ministry a constructive means to escape the online hazing. They suggested that it invite its “good friend” SAPPRFT, the media regulator, to join weibo. This would divert the abuse to the even less popular folk in that organisation.

To be fair, some of the complaints the Ministry of Culture got on censorship would have been better addressed to SAPPRFT. But the key point: although some people might not know who they’re angry with, it’s patently clear that they’re pretty furious.

Some feared that their rage would only rebound on themselves and their social media freedoms. As one wrote: “I’m worried the news tomorrow will read like this: weibo appears to be in a malicious and abusive, uncivilised state of affairs, so from today weibo will be temporarily suspended whilst it is cleaned up.”

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