China: Tweets Didn't Start the Fire

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV has followed up its attack last week on microblogs with another one set against the backdrop of riots in London and English cities, putting the blame squarely on social networking sites (SNS) such as Twitter and Facebook. Or was that British Prime Minister David Cameron?

Many Chinese netizens, meanwhile, are sounding off like Americans (“Guns don't kill people…”), defending Sina Weibo, China's largest microblog service, as a platform which brings forth more truth about China than CCTV does. One can even imagine that if sites like Twitter and Facebook weren't already blocked, CCTV anchors might be responding to the backlash right now and sounding a lot like Cameron at it.

CCTV: Social networking sites and microblogs are fanning the flames as riots spread beyond London

CCTV: Social networking sites and microblogs are fanning the flames as riots spread beyond London

Not that they'd need to, Chinese authorities have been casting the Internet as a national security threat since ethnic riots took place in Xinjiang in 2009. News from the UK now that Facebook and Flickr are being used to track down looters isn't really news [zh] to Chinese netizens, although People's Daily found it useful.

From a thread on Weibo [zh] in response to the news that English police have also begun arresting people on suspicion of using SNS to provoke rioters:

左5右4 要不要把咱的GFW借给他们

Should we lend them our GFW then?


I just wonder, will Beijing use this as an excuse now to get rid of Weibo, that thorn in their side?

安思文 警方终于聪明起来了。。。。

I see the police have finally smartened up….

我是发条是我 建议英国警方向中国政府学习维稳方法!

I suggest the English police start paying attention to measures the Chinese government uses to maintain stability!

Turning back to CCTV and its easy-on cosmetic remedy for social unrest, discussions elsewhere [zh] on Sina Weibo have gotten into whether or not the broadcaster sees microblogs as the competition, or if something else is at play, but don't offer much in the way of a response to CCTV's charges. Sina Weibo's rumor problem is well-documented and things have only gotten worse since the Jiang Zemin non-death debacle early last month.

李允翔 哎!微薄传播真相的能力太大!个个地区的政府部门这一阵又丑事百出。

Aye! Weibo can't handle all the pressure coming from spreading all this truth! Hundreds of scandals keep popping up from governments everywhere.

Juny徐 转发此微博:这些都是托词是借口。因为有关部门已经注意到了微博传播真相,发掘真相求真相的巨大威力。他们怕了。于是在一切都还可控的时候狠狠政治微博,免得老是让他们日子过的不安稳,数钱不痛快……

They're just looking for excuses. The relevant departments have come to realize the enormous power that Weibo has in spreading truth around, in being used to dig truth up, and demand more truth. They're afraid, and now they're using all means at their disposal to try and bring Weibo under control, to let themselves get back to living peacefully and counting their money without having to worry……

怒海争疯001 靠,原来都是推特,脸谱搞的事!强烈建议万恶的英帝学我天朝的GFW

Ah, so Twitter and Facebook are behind all this. Then I strongly suggest that the evil British imperialists start studying our GFW.

莲篷子 这套伎俩太熟悉了,估计会变换花样,反正不管从什么角度来黑微博的,绝对都是相关部门干的。

You know all this seems so familiar, I figure something's gonna have to give. Without question, any attacks on Weibo, you know who's behind them.

There don't seem to be many supporters of CCTV's position to be found on Weibo currently. Perhaps they're self-censoring.

Instead of pinning fault for the riots on Twitter's inability to deliver effective community services, UK-based journalist Tao HuawuPin Lu grants [zh] that racial tension and economic disparity are factors to consider in trying to determine what fueled the Tottenham riots, but ends with:

这次骚乱的直接导火线是伦敦警方枪杀一名黑人青年Mark Duggan,星期六死者家属朋友到 Tottenham Hale警署门口和平示威,到了晚上却演变成了打砸抢,同时警方只在街道一头组成人墙拦截,对于几十米远的犯罪活动却不介入阻止。这样的画面整个晚上都在电视上,显然鼓励了其他人第二天照样学样。

What directly led to these riots was that London police shot and killed the young black man, Mark Duggan. On Saturday, the parents of the deceased held a peaceful protest outside the doors of the Tottenham Hale police station, which by evening turned into incidents of smashing and looting. At the same time, police only formed a human blockade on the street to stop people from getting through, incapable of stopping the criminal activity taking place dozens of meters away. A shot of this played on television the entire night, inevitably encouraging others to join in the following day.


Police were not active in stopping the criminal activity; on one hand, police forces were weak, and on the other, indecisive. London's police force currently has no-one leading it. Both the chief of police and the deputy chief for anti-terrorism resigned recently in the cellphone voicemail eavesdropping scandal, and the rest of the leadership are on summer vacation. At the same time, London's mayor, the minister for home affairs, the deputy prime minister and the prime minister himself were also all overseas on summer holiday. There was no preparedness for a sudden incident such as this, and once it did break out, nobody unfortunately moved to deal with it quickly, instead people just hoped that the rioters would disperse by themselves. The opposite happened, and riots began to spread by the second day. Police were caught off guard and fumbled around, leaving them even more incapable of dealing with the rioters, contributing to even more people taking part in the looting, and then the situation fell apart.


Given the nature of England's political climate, riots such as this ought to be the strong suit of a conservative government, but the riots instead caught the current coalition government by surprise, and Cameron was a day late in returning to the country, something which has greatly affected his reputation. If he can't put the riots down and quickly, I'm afraid Cameron won't remain prime minister for much longer.


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