Chinese Moves to Organize Via WeChat Worry Local Communist Authorities

January 16, 2019 Updated: January 16, 2019

Officials in Muchuan County, in southwestern China, are telling local Chinese Communist Party (CCP) organizations to prevent people from organizing through WeChat, a popular Chinese social-media site.

On Jan. 10, the CCP committee in Muchuan, which is located in Leshan City of Sichuan Province, alerted its organizations in all of the county’s townships and villages, requesting that committees exert control the people’s ideological thought, maintain control over social media, and lead public opinion.

The alert, aimed at preventing local residents from mobilizing in protest, comes as part of the communist regime’s attempts to win on “the battlefield of public opinion.” The recent economic downturn in China has exacerbated social conflicts under the CCP’s authoritarian and corruption-ridden rule.

Residents of Muchuan’s 195 villages had set up chat groups on WeChat for each community, which sparked the alert. The local government became wary of the chat groups’ existence and ordered all villagers to leave them, citing the danger of fraud.

Using the internet and social media for mass mobilization, especially at the local level, is troubling to the authorities. The CCP is extremely wary of the threat posed by local organizing in reaction to cases of corruption, environmental damage, and other causes of unrest. In China, tens of thousands of civil disturbances are registered every year, with some involving tens of thousands of people.

“The battlefield of public opinion” is a concept created by Mao Zedong, the founding leader of communist China. In nearly 70 years of governance, the CCP has taken “victory” on that battlefield to be of utmost importance for its propaganda agencies and censorship of discussion.

The CCP controls which films, TV programs, radio, newspaper, books, magazines, and the websites people are allowed to access; the internet has become a new “battlefield” of public discourse. Millions of internet police monitor the regime’s “Great Firewall” to ensure that netizens don’t post politically sensitive content or visit banned websites.

On Jan. 10, China’s Cyberspace Administration announced regulations to manage blockchain technology, requiring registration of real names and identification. After the rules come into effect on Feb. 15, violations will be punishable by fines or prison.

In November 2016, Chinese authorities published the Internet Security Law, which was implemented starting June 1, 2017. That May, authorities announced their Provisions for the Administration of Internet News Information Services, which was implemented the same day as the Internet Security Law.

In January 2011, CCP updated its Administration of Internet Information Services Procedures, which was first published in September 2000.

On Jan. 8, the Cyberspace Administration published an article asking all its officials and clerks “to defend the battlefield of public opinion” by use of all available technology, including capturing video by drone, making short videos, virtual reality, HTML5, and other methods.

The article said “the battlefield” should combine radio, television, newspaper, internnet, Weibo, WeChat, and computing clients.