Chinese authorities appear to be aiming most of their attention at local information sources, particularly weibo.
Weibo has been instrumental lately in exposing several cases of lower-level malfeasance, including the release last month of a surreptitiously recorded sex tape involving a middle-aged Chongqing district party official and his 18-year-old mistress.
Controlling weibo “is integral to the interests of the party,” Lam said. “It’s more serious than just embarrassing stories about the assets of some officials. . . . Once they have lost control of the dissemination of information, I think the party sees real trouble ahead.”
In the past two weeks, a torrent of editorials in the state-run media has called for tighter controls over the Internet, ostensibly to better protect users’ personal data and to guard against “irresponsible rumors” and online business fraud.
On Friday, a standing committee of China’s rubber-stamp legislature approved measures that would strengthen requirements for Internet users to supply their real names, which many believe is a way to stifle debate online and make it easier for police to track down and arrest people who post sensitive items.
Media experts see the new measures as gradual steps to try to rein in what has become for many young, urban and wired Chinese a powerful new free-speech platform and a source of uncensored news and information.
“Cleaning up the online world demands the self-discipline of Web users, but even more it demands the interventionist discipline of rule of law,” warned People’s Daily Online in an ominous Dec. 24 editorial.
Chinese officials also appear to have upgraded the sophisticated censorship apparatus collectively known as the Great Firewall. Chinese and foreigners here who want to gain access to blocked Internet sites now commonly use virtual private networks, or VPNs, to bypass the firewall. But upgrades to the firewall have targeted VPNs and made bypassing the firewall more cumbersome.
Three of the most popular companies offering VPNs in China, WiTopia, Astrill and StrongVPN, this month apologized to their customers in China for slow service, blaming China’s censors.
Astrill said in a note to its customers that it was working on a way around the new barriers, but the firewall was getting better at seeking out and blocking new VPN pathways. “It’s like a cat-and-mouse game,” the company said.
Liu Liu and Zhang Jie in Beijing contributed to this report.