Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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December 27, 2012

China tightening controls on Internet

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Xi and others on the party's ruling seven-member Standing Committee have tried to promote an image of themselves as men of the people who care about China's poor majority. They have promised to press ahead with market-oriented reforms and to support entrepreneurs but have given no sign of support for political reform.

Communist leaders who see the Internet as a source of economic growth and better-paid jobs were slow to enforce the same level of control they impose on movies, books and other media, apparently for fear of hurting fledgling entertainment, shopping and other online businesses.

Until recently, Web surfers could post comments online or on microblog services without leaving their names.

That gave ordinary Chinese a unique opportunity to express themselves to a public audience in a society where newspapers, television and other media are state-controlled. The most popular microblog services say they have more than 300 million users and some users have millions of followers reading their comments.

The Internet also has given the public an unusual opportunity to publicize accusations of official misconduct.

A local party official in China's southwest was fired in November after scenes from a videotape of him having sex with a young woman spread quickly on the Internet. Screenshots were uploaded by a former journalist in Beijing, Zhu Ruifeng, to his Hong Kong website, an online clearing house for corruption allegations.

Some industry analysts suggest allowing Web surfers in a controlled setting to vent helps communist leaders stay abreast of public sentiment in their fast-changing society. Still, microblog services and online bulletin boards are required to employ censors to enforce content restrictions. Researchers say they delete millions of postings a day.

The government says the latest Internet regulation before the National People's Congress is aimed at protecting Web surfers' personal information and cracking down on abuses such as junk e-mail. It would require users to report their real names to Internet service and telecom providers.

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