The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) control over social networking companies in China has become even tighter and has recently made great efforts to force companies to increase censorship and surveillance, making users comply with rules on posting “illegal” topics that harm the image of the Chinese regime. In addition, companies must provide all user information such as emails, photos, documents, and contacts of millions of residents to the Chinese government.
As a new measure, the CCP established that since April 28, social networking companies must expose the geolocation data of each of the users, i.e., show their locations based on their Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, without the consent of the person.
Weibo, a social network similar to Twitter and other Chinese social networking platforms, applies this function every time users make a post or comment.
The social network said that the location function prevents “bad behavior” on the Internet, Reuters reported.
This means not discussing their religious beliefs or communicating with relatives and others abroad. The most censored topics are related to the reputation of the party or officials, foreign affairs, health, security, and activism.
For that reason, the pandemic was a sensitive issue for the Chinese authorities, who censored, for example, users’ requests on the networks for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19 and also silenced all criticism of vaccines produced in China, reported The Citizen Lab.
Any negative or unauthorized content related to CCP officials is heavily censored. So is censorship of taboo topics such as the Tiananmen massacre on June 4, 1989; Taiwan independence; and repression of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet, or banned religious groups such as Falun Gong in many parts of China, according to China Digital Times.
WeChat users are increasingly self-censoring to avoid having their accounts shut down or other sanctions, WSJ reports.
The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) and the CCP’s Central Commission for Cyberspace Affairs oversee the telecommunications sector and regulate internet content.
In March 2020, the CAC approved the so-called provisions on the internet information content ecosystem governance. These provisions place online content into three categories: encouraged positive content that refers to “spreading the party’s doctrine,” negative content discouraging “excessive celebrity gossip,” and “sensationalist headlines,” The illegal category includes terrorist and obscene content, as well as information that “harms the honor and interests of the nation,” “subverts” the CCP regime or questions the government’s social, ethnic, religious or economic policies, Insider reported.
Moreover, the CCP hires paid web commentators to post pro-government commentary and influence online discussions, Global Voice reported.
But the allegedly “illegal” postings meant that in December 2020, 24 teenagers and young adults were convicted of “provoking fights and riots” and “violating citizens’ personal information.” They were charged for posting political memes and leaking personal information about Xi Jinping’s family on the websites zhina wiki and esu.wiki. Niu Tengyu, 21, was singled out as the “main culprit,” sentenced to 14 years in prison and fined 130, 000 yuan. China Change reported that the young man was tortured while in detention and forced to confess.
An increasing number of Internet users were detained for “unpatriotic” speech. In February 2021, seven people were arrested for commenting on the names of Chinese soldiers killed in a border clash with India, NPR.org reported.
The CCP directly monitors Chinese citizens through Internet and cell phone communications. In recent years, the Chinese government has obtained immense big data through private companies that include databases of Chinese individuals and their Internet and cell phone activities, according to The New York Times.
By conducting investigations, the CCP, through Wechat, have unrestricted access to users’ communications and data on all popular platforms and can punish them even for their private conversations. In February 2020, authorities detained Chen Geng after he mentioned Falun Gong in a private message on WeChat, according to WSJ.
Falun Gong, also called Falun Dafa, is an ancient Chinese discipline of the Buddha school, centered on the universal principles of Truth, Benevolence, and Tolerance, incorporating five qigong exercises. Its followers are brutally persecuted through a campaign launched by former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin due to its huge popularity, surpassing the number of Communist Party members in 1999. The relentless persecution continues to date.
The WeChat app can activate users’ microphones and cameras and copy their location data, address books, photos, and private messages anytime.
According to China Digital Times, the dataset obtained through users’ social networks would also serve for “social credit” systems that would be evaluated even with negative or positive publications to the CCP.
The geolocation applied nowadays, in all Chinese social networks, are one more element, not only to censor but to find any citizen who violates the rules by making a simple publication that could be considered “illegal” and for which they could be arrested by CCP officials, anywhere in China. People who publish even a single criticism against the CCP cannot escape their watchful and repressive eyes.