China Cracks Whip on Government Social Media Image

December 28, 2018 Updated: December 28, 2018
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BEIJING/SHANGHAI—China’s cabinet has warned government departments to clean up their social media image amid a drive to bolster the government’s online presence to help reach tech-savvy young people who get their information from smartphones.

The State Council issued the guidelines late on Dec. 27 saying that authorities’ social media presence needed more regulation and vowed to clean up dormant “zombie” accounts and “shocking” comment from official channels.

Government bodies have been pushing into social media as a way to reach younger people, who get most information from platforms like Tencent’s messaging app WeChat, microblog platform Weibo or newer services such as news aggregator Toutiao.

The government is also trying to get a tighter grip on the dissemination of information to the public more broadly, and has been tightening regulations on financial news and reining in online bloggers and livestream artists.

The State Council said government accounts “cannot express any personal emotions or opinions, and normally should only repost information from government websites or from sources recognized by government.”

In July, a verified Weibo account of the Yueyang municipal government in Hunan Province posted a shocking comment about a netizen in a repost responding to concern about a waste incineration plant. It later issued an apology.

Authorities were also forbidden from fabricating social media data or paying for fake followers, it said.

Over the last couple of years government agencies have been expanding beyond Weibo, with forays onto video sites like Bilibili and Bytedance’s Douyin, also known as TikTok.

By Pei Li & Adam Jourdan