China’s Latest Crackdown Targets the Internet—and Katy Perry

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Teenagers surround a computer screen at the ChinaJoy Expo, also known as the China Digital Entertainment Expo and Conference, in Shanghai, China, on Friday, July 29, 2011. (Photo: Qilai Shen / Bloomberg / Getty Images)

Another day, another crackdown in China. This time the country’s raucous virtual community, with 485 million Internet users, is feeling the heat. State censors have always policed what appears on the domestic social media sites that have flourished even as Western sites like Facebook and Twitter have been blocked. But various new rules are throwing up further complications. Earlier this month, a top Chinese Communist Party official admonished domestic microblog service Weibo to promote the “Internet’s healthy development,” which China-watcher Russell Leigh Moses sees as “code words for staying away from topics which attack the rule of the Communist Party or hold officials up for public ridicule.”

In separate news, the state-run China Daily announced on Aug. 29 that 6,600 websites had been shuttered since April for engaging in “illegal public relations deals,” that involved “deleting online news stories and critical postings or hiring other netizens to disseminate selected data or opinions on the Internet.” Dubious marketing is a problem in China, where specious online posts can influence consumer patterns. But the Chinese state faces its own credibility problem when it comes to online comments. Local governments openly employ Web commentators who defend official policy; they have been nicknamed the “50-cent party” because of one estimate of the amount of money made for each online remark that benefits the Chinese Communist Party.

Then two Chinese judicial bodies ruled that beginning September 1, Chinese hackers who infiltrate 20 to 100 computers anywhere in the world may face up to seven years’ imprisonment. (Those who target more than 100 computers may land in jail for even longer.) Online security firms have long complained of hacking attacks they believe originate in China, even fingering the Chinese state in invasions of foreign government computers. But it’s a charge Beijing denies, and it’s therefore unlikely that the new punishments will be meted out against Chinese hackers of overseas government websites.

In addition, “China’s Ministry of Culture has ordered domestic websites to stop providing playback and download services of 100 overseas songs that have failed to go through ‘official approval procedures,’” according to a report from the China Daily. Hundreds of songs have already been deemed unfit for Chinese ears—including ditties by Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Eminem—because they “harm the security of State culture,” says the official Xinhua News Agency. Orwellian language befitting another Chinese crackdown.