The Chinese authorities have stepped up their propaganda against rambunctiousness on the Internet, most recently by enlisting a well-known real estate developer to participate in a 15 minute video segment where he expresses support for the Party’s ongoing crackdown.
Pan Shiyi is a real estate mogul with 16 million followers, known as a Big V, meaning a verified account, on the Sina Weibo microblog. The term Big V is often synonymous with celebrity and some degree of influence in Chinese society. Pan was one of the first group of users on Weibo to test the platform.
In the interview he defined Weibo as a “public space” that requires control and regulations, and said that people who spread rumours or slander online should be punished.
After reminiscing on the salad days of innocent microblogging, he is asked a series of questions on how Weibo is to be defined and understood. “Is Weibo a public space like a road or a bus station, or is it just a pure virtual space?” the interviewer asks. Pan obligingly explains that “It is certainly a public space, just like a square, or traffic, or the roads. It’s the same.”
He added: “If the abuse exceeds a certain point, then of course there should be legal punishments.”
After he was asked what the social responsibility was for Big Vs, Pan stammered slightly while answering. “When you retweet something, there may be tens of thousands of people who see it. Millions of fofofo followers are behind them. I-I think, as a Big V, one has a lot of fan-fan-fan, fans. He should be more self-di-disciplined, can’t be so ca-ca-casual,” went one of the transcripts produced by a netizen. Internet users dissecting the remarks thought his manner betrayed nervousness. One user remarked: “Little Pan is shivering!”
Pan is known to have a slight stutter, but he had previously said he was nervous about the interview. “Last night, I called a Big V friend of mine, saying, ‘CCTV wants to interview me about the judicial interpretation [restricting speech online]. I’m very nervous. What should I tell them?’ He said, ‘Never be interviewed by them.’ I said, ‘It’s too late. They are 20 meters away walking towards me now.’ He said, ‘Then you just say it’s despicable to make rumors.’”
Pan’s posts on Weibo in recent months have steered clear of politics. In interviews with the Chinese press he evinces to being neither a strong supporter of the Party nor a critic.
His interview went viral on the Internet soon after it was posted by China Central Television, the state broadcaster that is laying down much of the televised propaganda in support of the Party’s new campaign against the Internet.
“I just saw this picture,” remarked the user Ban Zha, posting a screengrab of Pan on CCTV. “I felt there was something missing. Now I’ve got it: it’s missing a pair of handcuffs.”