China: In the saga of Bo Xilai, ¿social media challenged the government?

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Society & You - Social Critic
Friday, 11 May 2012 17:00
Bo Xilai portrayed as Greek mythology character Icarus, who tried to fly too close to the sun with a set of wings made from wax. Source: Beijing Cream.

Bo Xilai presented as Icarus, a character from Greek mythology who tried to fly into the sun with a pair of wings made of wax. Source: Beijing Cream.

This post is part of our special coverage of International Relations and Security [en].

Political struggle, murder, corruption, espionage and diplomatic conflict - the fall of Bo Xilai of the elite of the Communist Party of China (CPC) has become a multi-faceted history. The case Bo Xilai, is also a good example of the disruptive role that social media plays in today's China. Despite the censorship, the debates on social networks [in] caused the international media sharpen their ears.

With the succession of leadership [en, pdf] of the CPC, held once every ten years, scheduled for October 2012, the case Bo Xilai has jumped to the front page of the local media and international. It has been widely argued that social media has made it impracticable for the government to keep the story behind the scenes. However, it is also true that the government has moved to social media to their advantage. Does the Chinese government really wanted to hide the history of Bo Xilai? Does social media really challenged government control over the information? The opacity of China's policy makes it impossible to answer these questions, but worth a thought.

Recapitulate how Chinese social media played an important role in compelling disclosure and seemingly defy government control over information.

February 2012

1. The first rumors spread

Wang Lijun, Vice Mayor of Chongqing, is removed from his post. Despite censorship [in] the speculation regarding his whereabouts is spreading in the microblogs of China [in]. Rumors say that Wang has requested political asylum in the U.S. consulate after falling foul of the well located local party secretary Bo Xilai, aiming at a high political office. Wang could have reported Bo's complicity in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood [in].

2. A "type therapy-vacation"

An official statement on the platform like Twitter, Sina Weibo [in], says that Wang has been temporarily removed from his post for a "therapy-vacation type" [in]. The phrase became an ironic meme in the Chinese Internet.

3. Where are the censors?

The Chinese government confirmed that Wang entered the U.S. consulate in a post on Sina Weibo that netizens were quick to RT. The machine censor not only allowed but it stimulated discussions on the Internet, creating suspicion among ciernautas. The blogger C. Custer [in] by ChinaGeeks writes:

Right now, Wang is back on the list of trending topics on Sina Weibo, in duplicate. [...] The search for "Wang Lijun" (typed in correctly) continue to be censored. Sina's pretty clear that is not at all trying to suppress the story, which raises the question: Is someone trying to harm Sina Bo Xilai?

March 2012

4. Early rumors are confirmed

The official news agency, Xinhua, you double posting: Wang has been removed from office [at] and Bo Xilai has been replaced as Party chief in Chongqing [in] by Zhang Dejiang. Another report confirmed that Wang sought political asylum in the U.S. consulate.

5. Comes the second wave of rumors

Amid the public debate stirred by the political purge of Bo, spread rumors [in] on the Internet about a coup in Beijing and a confrontation between President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao on the one hand, and the defender Bo, Zhou Yongkang, on the other.

6. Talk of the coup finally awaken the Great Firewall

The micro-blogging sites Weibo Sina and Tencent Weibo [in] blocked the option to search for words [in]. Days after the blockade, the government attacks the social media . Six people were arrested and 16 websites shut down for "disseminating rumors on the internet" to "severely disrupt public order, undermine social stability and deserve punishment," Xinhua reported [in]. The same report notes that Sina and Tencent Weibo Weibo have been "criticized and punished accordingly." The two sites posting comments detained for three days.

April 2012

7. The rumors come true

On April 10, Xinhua for two separate announcements: Bo's dismissal from his post at the Central Committee of CPC [at] for "serious violations of discipline" and the alleged role of his wife [in] in the murder of English businessman Neil Heywood by "economic interests".

Netizens can not handle the surprise. The rumors [in] that had flooded the network for months are suddenly on the covers of all the official bulletins. Jing Gao, Ministry of Tofu [es] writes:

The user of Weibo Zhang Xingsheng, wrote, "we had already followed the instruction of the highest ever would believe or difundiríamos a rumor. But today, the rumor became truth! I am puzzled! To believe or not believe? This is the question!

The 550 million users of micro-blogs [in] China have witnessed a twisted ploy public information. Rumors on the Internet becoming the official truth during the night, backed by the same official media that censored and demonized in the name of social harmony.

8. Political strife and corruption

The government insists [on] the fall of Bo is part of the fight against corruption and has nothing to do with a political struggle. As details emerge about the fortunes of the family of Bo, inflames public discussion [in] the enrichment of party officials. With the discussion of corruption taking the press, the government manages to put aside the discussion of sensitive political infighting [in].

Again, Jing Gao reflects [en]:

But one thing is certain. Before the advent of social media, the government never had people an explanation. [...] Today, with tens of millions of Chinese actively using Sina Weibo, a low murmur of political gossip may have already been amplified and heard by thousands before the Internet police are present

Social media play an important role promoting public debate in China breaking systematic cover-ups. However, it seems quite clear that the Chinese government has shown remarkable skill in playing with censorship, filtering or blocking information at your convenience to direct public opinion. Who wins? Do the social media of China really challenge the government information control?

ISN logo This post and its translations into Spanish, Arabic and French have been commissioned by the International Security Network (ISN) as part of an alliance to locate voices of citizens around the world on issues of international relations and security.

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Written by Violet Camarasa · Translated by Juan Arellano · View original post [en] · Comments (0)
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