A new report from the state-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences that labels social media in China as a rumor mill and social media users in China as having low levels of education and income is raising alarm among netizens.
The academy released its Annual Report on the Development of China's Audio-visual New Media (2013) on June 25. The three major findings of the report include:
1. The majority of social media users belong to the “three lows”, characterized by low age, low level of education, and low income.
29 percent of microbloggers are in their 20s, 26 percent are in their teens, and 25 percent in their 30s. 80 percent of all microbloggers are below 40.
75 percent of users on China's popular microblogging website Sina Weibo have only completed a high school education and 92 percent earn less than 5,000 yuan [800 US dollars] per month.
2. Among the 100 hot topics appeared in the period of the study, January 2012 to January 2013, more than one third of the information and comments related to these topics were rumors, the report said.
3. The contribution of new media in revealing corruption has exceeded conventional media outlets, but the report also says there is a vulgar turn in new media anti-corruption efforts and suggests [zh] real-name registration to prevent the spread of rumors and invasion of privacy.
The “three lows” label
In China, the labeling of a certain social group usually implies that they are being targeted by some upcoming political campaign. With the characterization of social media users as the “three lows”, many on the Internet feared that the report provides a policy guideline for the government to further control and monitor people's speech.
In the Weibo comment [zh] thread of Kai-fu Lee, many netizens opened fire at the inverse of the “three lows” — the “three highs”:
@”Tiny P Asian Style”: Mother f–ker. Without the “three lows” who would feed the extravagant “three highs”?
@”Crystal ball”: This is another ideological wind. Last time it said: the Internet is not an lawless space. This kind of bullshit in China does not come from no where. They use “science” to cover-up [their political intentions], this kind of research unit that has nothing to do with science and should be abolished.
The accusation that one-third of rumors come from social media caused much outrage as spreading rumors is a crime in China. To pacify angry netizens, Communist Party mouthpiece newspaper the People's Daily amended its presentation of the report [zh], stressing that new media is not rumor aggregator. However, the newspaper also stated that because microbloggers spread information according to their personal judgement, the risk of probability of distributing rumors is much higher and thus suggested that users should protect their account and fame, “like birds protecting their feathers”.
However, the People's Daily's advice was met with sarcasm in its comment section:
@Lu Jizhong: “I agree that new media is not rumor aggregator” because the production of rumors has been monopolized by party-affiliated journals, newspapers. For those who dare to spread rumors will be infringing their rights.
@”Boshisuo”: Rumor that reveals truth is rumor, rumor about rumor is the truth.
@Neodoxy: Conventional media [like the People's Daily] should protect [their position as] the party's mouthpiece like people protecting their eyes, don't just shut your eyes and keep bull-shitting, ass-kissing and boasting.
@wsirsir: Rumor wholesalers are praised, rumor distributors are blocked. Rumor has to be monopolized as well?
The purpose of the internet is not to promote certain content but be a *platform* for any content. Do people from the three lows also have lower rights of speech because they are young, poor and uneducated? Those are the people I would like to hear speak up rather than the three highs. They have spoken enough already.