​Chinese cyber-police set up social media presence to better combat 'illegal & harmful' content

Reuters / Stringer
Chinese cyber police have decided to come out of the shadows and create a presence on social networks with the aim of further tightening control over cyberspace. The measure will also encourage citizen reporting, as it looks for greater transparency.

China remains one of the few countries that blocks access to popular Western websites and social networks for its citizens. It has also started in recent years a huge anti-porn and anti-gambling drive, with particular websites and explicit material being hunted down and removed in order to “create a harmonious, cultured, clear and bright internet,” the Ministry of Public Security said.

But the police arm tasked with combatting “illegal and harmful” online content has decided to usher in a new era of transparent censorship, where progress reports get published, citizens get involved and other similar moves are implemented.

The Ministry of Public Security put the measure into effect starting Monday, with some 50 provinces involved so far – both major and small areas. An account is being set up on Weibo – China’s answer to Twitter.

"Internet police are coming out to the front stage from behind the curtains," a statement from the ministry read.

It is “beginning regular open inspection and law enforcement efforts, raising the visibility of the police online, working hard to increase a joint feeling of public safety for the online community and satisfy the public."

READ MORE: China to issue 5yr security plan to safeguard state secrets

It will aim to eradicate “illegal and harmful information on the internet, deter and prevent cyber-crimes and improper words and deeds online, publish case reports and handle public tip-offs,” the statement also said.

The issues spread beyond pornography and gambling (traditionally attacked by the government) to areas like fraud, defamation, drugs, firearms and “obscene and vulgar” activities and “the spread of harmful information.”

The statement promises the Chinese “a convenient service network” that will be supported by a 24-hour online patrol, among other tactics.

Awareness and prevention are at the core of this community outreach involving ordinary citizens.

Punishment will be dealt out according to the severity of the crime. "Just like in the real world, law violations in cyberspace will not go unaccounted for," the ministry warned.

In its effort to root out cybercrime, the government has so far deleted 758,000 pieces of illegal online content and closed some 70,000 cases of online crime since the start of 2015.