China Gives Police Powers to Monitor Social Media Friends, Chat Groups

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From Oct. 1, Chinese police will be empowered to use information from a person’s social media contacts list, including friends circles on popular smartphone chat apps, as evidence in criminal investigations. Public Domain

He told RFA in an interview on Friday that he expects the new rules to be used to police speech, rather than to support investigations into criminal actions.

“In our country where we have the rule of individuals rather than of law, people are getting more and more worried about what they say, rather than what they do,” Wu said.

“This is because there are now so many people criticizing [the government] that they are having trouble keeping tabs on it.”

“They can’t stem the flow easily, so they are trying to frighten people, and make them feel threatened,” Wu said. “It’s another form of control on free speech.”

“These rules are sending out a very clear message: don’t go criticizing the government any more.”

China now routinely clamps down on unverified reporting via social media, in a bid to retain control of a single, official version of events.

A slew of new regulations have criminalized “rumor-mongering” via social media, and some activists have been held on criminal charges over they retweeted an unverified report on a politically sensitive topic.

In July, police in the northern province of Hebei detained three people for tweeting “false news” to social media after they posted reports that hundreds of people had died in overnight flooding near Xingtai city.

One of the detainees had posted to the social media site Tieba saying that “more than 700 people” had drowned as floodwaters from the Qilihe River engulfed their homes as they slept, police said.

Police set up a whistleblower website last May in a bid to garner tip-offs from those wishing to report “false” online information, official media reported.

Anyone found “spreading rumors” on Sina Weibo will have their accounts terminated and may be investigated by police, The Global Times, which has close ties to the ruling party, reported at the time.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.