Microblogging and Anti-corruption in China

-- ShanJiao - 12 Dec 2012

Microblogging has gained popularity as a platform for online anti-corruption activities in China since it came into birth. It is a low-cost and safe way for the public to provide initial clues or evidence of corruption and to create public pressure on disciplinary authorities to act. However, its function is limited given the real-name registration requirement for microblogging and Internet censorship in China.

Important Role in Anti-Corruption Activities

Before the Internet emerged in China, the ways for the general public to initiate anti-corruption activities were limited and sometimes dangerous. One can choose either to file a report to the local anti-corruption authorities, i.e., CCP’s discipline committee and people’s procuratorate, or to call attention from local media. If the endeavor fails at local level, he/she can bring the issue to higher-level authorities, which is usually expensive, time-consuming and not responsive. The other problem is the disclosure of source of information and revenge afterwards.

With the development and popularity of Internet in China, both the government and anti-corruption activist have taken advantage of the Internet and developed new ways of reporting corruption. For example, the Central Discipline Committee has its own reporting website where people can provide information about corruption anonymously. But the lack of responsiveness remains problematic with the official anti-corruption websites. Some activists also establish their own reporting websites. A report shows that the websites deal with clues mainly in two ways: first, they gather the relevant evidence and report to anti-corruption authorities or supervisor of the accused officials; and second, they might rely on the traditional media to call broader attention from the public. Among others, lack of funding and constant visitors and the threat of being shut down by the government are the major problems with these websites.

The function of microblogs as a platform of anti-corruption activities overlaps with the reporting websites but differs dramatically. The biggest one is that it integrates different players in anti-corruption activities in one platform. Through an official reporting website, only the source of information and discipline authorities are involved in the process while the individual reporting websites can function as an agent between the two, protecting the source from revenging and arming the source with knowledge of laws and skills in reporting. Now the integration of the source, the official authorities, the agents and the public changes the interaction among them in anti-corruption activities.

First, the interaction between the government and public is more open and responsive. Now the governments at different levels have their own official account on microblogging websites and behave actively. According to the 2012 report from weibo.com, by October 2012, there are 60064 official accounts in total, increased by 231% comparing to last year, and they published 32,000,000 posts. Though the way people send direct message to government accounts seems similar to the way of reporting anonymously to an official reporting website, the interactive feature of microblogs has give the anti-corruption authority a platform to respond to individual report in a timely manner. This August, after receiving a direct message disclosing corruption activity of Liang Guoying, the local authority in Zhongshan City initiated investigation and posted four times on Weibo reporting their investigation within one week. The official said the first message was from an inactive account which might be used solely for hiding his/her real information.

Second, some active users who have at least thousands of followers are functioning as an agent for the source in disseminating information. By taking advantage of microblogging, the anti-corruption activists can avoid the problem of lack of funding and constant visiting. Moreover, people who can function as an agent are not limited to the activists. In a case about Luwan Red Cross, the original post was deleted by the blogger due to fear. The case called public attention by a post from a verified user at that time, Professor Xiao Huixue, who has stopped microblogging now for reason unknown.

Third, the general public are involved directly in the process. They are not only observers, creating pressure on the authorities, but also information provider, assisting the authorities in investigation. In Liang Guoying case mentioned above, after the first official report on their investigation, the authority received tremendous information from other users regarding the corruption. And their involvement was highly valued by the authority. The public attention can be generated within the platform, without relying the traditional media as the individual reporting websites do.

With these features, microblogs becomes a major instrument for anti-corruption purpose.


However, the advantages of microblogs in anti-corruption activities are sacrificed by its feature in sharing information and some administrative measures in China.

A long standing trouble with any Internet content provider in China is its censorship system. Microblog users cannot post information containing one of the sensitive words which makes discussion about corruption by higher-ranked leaders almost impossible through microblogs. Even if the post is not caught by the censors and published successfully, once it becomes hot topic, microblogging service provider may add new sensitive words to stop further dissemination.

The other strike on microblogs is the real-name registration requirement in Beijing and Guangdong this March. This may cause fear that their identity being disclosed by the service provider to the government thus limit people’s willingness to report and even to forward posts which can diminish microblog’s power in generating public attention and pressing the authority. The worry is not coming from nowhere. In 2011, Ren Jianyu was sent to a labor camp in Chongqing for writing and forwarding information related to Bo Xilai on his microblog and was release after 15 months.

Another problem is caused largely by the feature of microblog itself. People tend to post and forward posts without verifying information, especially when they are angered by the corruption. False information spread quickly but information verifying the truth does not. This may cause serious damage to people’s privacy and fame.


With limitations, microblog plays a better role than other online anti-corruption instrument as a medium for delivering information and generating public attention and is a positive example of how Internet can promote democracy in China.

It's had to disagree with anything said in this analysis, but it's not easy to locate the idea in here which is yours. These points are familiar, and they make perfect sense. They should allow us to go a little further in our thinking. Is corruption one of the kinds of abuse of power for which the right of free speech, including anonymous speech, is the best cure? To what extent is the Party's determination to prevent anonymity in society incompatible with any eventual transition to a regime of democracy and the rule of law? In that sense, is state-controlled microblogging promoting democracy in China, or postponing it?