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China bans government workers from sharing porn, state secrets on WeChat

Chinese government shares '8 Red Lines Not to Cross' for state bureaucrats, revealing ubiquity of social media in China and common sense work advice for the rest of us.

Tech

Published Apr 19, 2017   Updated Apr 19, 2017, 11:00 am CDT

The Chinese Communist Party on Tuesday laid out new social media guidelines for its approximately 7.4 million state bureaucrats that restrict what government workers can do online.  

That the Chinese government felt it necessary to release rules specifically for WeChat speaks to the platform’s widespread popularity and the country’s continued restrictions on internet freedom.

Reported by Chinese state newspaper Xinhua under the headline  “Attention, Party Cadres Have Eight Red Lines That You Absolutely Cannot Cross!” the guidelines were specific to social messaging platform WeChat.

The red lines are:

  1. Providing negative commentary on party policies
  2. Sharing obscene images or videos
  3. Spreading rumors
  4. Illegally accepting micropayments
  5. Using micropayments to buy votes
  6. Leaking state secrets or other proprietary information from work units
  7. Running unauthorized WeChat-based side businesses
  8. Publishing “other improper remarks”

The article goes into depth in describing, for each red line, real-life cases that ran afoul of the regulations.

WeChat counts 768 million daily users, more than half of which spend over an hour and a half on the app per day. By contrast, Facebook’s 1.13 billion users are on it for an average of 20 minutes daily.

Far more than just a messaging app, WeChat also hosts self-contained payment systems, media distribution, ride-hailing services and, as of earlier this year, an entire app store, called “mini-programs,” to rival the Apple App Store and Google Play.

WeChat is also subject to widespread government censorship. According to studies by researchers at the University of Toronto, WeChat engages in content filtering at the behest of China’s government. The censorship, which the researchers found takes place through WeChat’s servers, blocks keywords related to controversial news events, preventing users from receiving messages that contained the restricted keywords. WeChat must abide by the government’s censorship requests to continue operating in the country.

The new guidelines serve as a reminder of China’s system of Internet control and surveillance. In fact, several of the guidelines have legal backing. Spreading rumors, for example, was criminalized in China’s cyber laws and can result in a fine, a charge of defamation, and even jail time for rumors that are viewed over 5,000 times or shared over 500 times.

But some of the guidelines are just plain good advice for all social media users: “Social networks are not outside the law,” says one. “Party and government WeChat work groups, to be used for the demonstration, communication, and discussion of our work, are ‘public spaces.’ Party members and leading cadres are public figures, and their words and deeds represent the image of the party and the government.”

In other words, don’t spread porn on your office Slack. Thank you, Chinese Communist Party.

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*First Published: Apr 19, 2017, 11:01 am CDT