China Announces 2023 Internet Purge: ‘Special Campaigns to Cleanse Cyberspace’

An accredited member of the media goes online at the main press center (MPC) on the Olympi

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) held a press conference on Tuesday to tout the millions of items of “illegal information” and “illegal accounts” it banned last year, and lay out its plans for an even greater censorship purge in the coming year to “rectify the cyberspace problems which have harmed the experience of Chinese netizens.”

According to China’s state-run Global Times, CAC racked up “more than 54 million items of illegal information, 6.8 million illegal accounts, 2,890 Apps and 260,000 group chats” on its censorship kill sheet in 2022. The Communist agency plans to continue a “special campaign” launched in 2021 called Operation Qinglang to “clean up cyberspace.”

The Global Times said Operation Qinglang, whose name translates to “Clear and Bright,” began by targeting “unhealthy and excessive online fandom culture,” then moved on to “illegal livestreaming,” “short video platforms,” “self-media disorder,” and “paid Internet trolls” in 2022.

Naturally, the Chinese state paper forgot to mention that much of the hysteria over “excessive fandom” boiled down to the Chinese Communist Party freaking out because its subjects were idolizing entertainers from free and democratic South Korea. Many of the short videos and “self-media” censored in 2022 were cries for help from Chinese citizens trapped in one of dictator Xi Jinping’s horrifying citywide coronavirus lockdowns.

In 2023, the CAC plans to go after “speculative rumor-mongering, counterfeiting and illegal profit-seeking activities.”

A Didi ride-hailing car on a road in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China, July 21, 2022. The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) imposed a fine of 8.026 billion yuan on Didi Global in accordance with the Cyber Security Law, Data Security Law, Personal Information Protection Law, Administrative Punishment Law and other laws and regulations. (CFOTO/Future Publishing via Getty)

“The cyberspace regulator vowed full clearance of illegal messages released by paid internet trolls, including blocking water army recruitment channels, and shutting down tasks-dispatching and payment-making platforms,” the Global Times reported.

The “water army” is China’s term for networks of fake social media accounts that are hired to inflate the popularity of companies and celebrities, or to ruin the popularity of their rivals. The Chinese government is very fond of building bot networks to influence business and politics in the free world but severely dislikes such tactics when they are applied inside China’s walled-off Internet backwater, especially when they interfere with the government’s agenda.

Padding out social media followings with fake accounts and using fake reviews to manipulate product ratings is a problem everywhere, but the phenomenon is almost ubiquitous in China, where every big public relations operation hires bot networks for both attack and defense. Outside observers have estimated that about 20 percent of the users on Chinese social media networks are fake accounts.

“Water armies” are a major industry and the Chinese Communist Party appears to be growing more annoyed at the practice because fake accounts are often used to capture the attention of high-ranking officials. Up-and-coming apparatchiks purchase huge social media followings to make themselves look popular and fake accounts create the illusion that the public is clamoring for policy decisions.

The Global Times said CAC intends to “launch targeted activities on rectifying contents ni short videos and on platforms providing daily life services, as well as messages conveyed to teenagers during the upcoming summer vacation.”

A staff member of the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) explains national security-related knowledge to students in Hohhot, North China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, April 15, 2022. (Costfoto/Future Publishing via Getty)

The Chinese Communist Party has lately grown concerned with social media influencers using their popularity in ways the Party does not like. Accounts with gigantic followings have been vaporized overnight during social media celebrity crackdowns, especially when the celebrities broach topics the Party does not want its subjects to discuss.

As for messages to young people, the approved Communist Party message for 2023 is “get busy making babies” to address the growing demographic crisis

Several Chinese colleges unexpectedly announced last week that the annual Qingming holiday, known as “Tomb-Sweeping Day” in English, has been expanded to a full week. A vocational college in Chengdu posted a holiday notice encouraging students to “leave the classroom, leave campus, enjoy the nature and feel the beauty of spring and love” during the extended vacation.

“I’m sure this is just another attempt to push people into having more babies,” a cynical user wrote on China’s Weibo social media platform.


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