I study social media, and I am from China, I didn’t mean to put the two things together, but that’s what most people ask me about – the Internet and the social media in China.
So here it goes.
We have no doubt that with the development of the social media platform Weibo (meaning microblog) in China, people actually get to know a lot more things than before, they even get to know more things than they should.
Why do I put it that way?
Well, I was (as usual) browsing my Chinese social media in my spare time. And with the mobility of Weibo in nowadays, people get to post information on it almost instantly, and people like me who is reading it, will know about things right away.
So then, no matter what happened, people can always get to know about it first on social media, and therefore putting discussion on it as well.
And when there is negative news came up, the discussion will be fierce. I can feel the strong emotion from people between the lines.
And as always, what makes people feel even worse about bad news, is that the government/Internet security will restrict the information flow, which works in traditional media, maybe in web search (trust me, they are doing much ‘better’ SEO than the Western media by deleting the information or if that doesn’t work, they spam the search result with ‘official’ response.) but not on social media, or not that efficient just yet.
My point is, what does this do to people’s mind in China?
One thing for sure, an open Internet or open social media environment could satisfy the human nature of curiosity. People generally feel happier if they are allowed to talk about whatever they want to talk about. The sense of freedom is irresistible. It’s not a bad thing from what I see. Some people put it as the sign of democracy. If we have to go to that level, I do agree as well.
Yet here’s the down fall, the emotion of aggressiveness or anger get spread much easier as well.
A free web, means it is exposing the conflicts and differentiation between one social level to another. As a result, when people witness an unequal world, they feel intimidated. It is inflating the negative emotion among the population. In a long term, it could result in depression or people lose faith in the country among middle class and working class. (genuinely, I don’t think the upper class will be affected, at least not in the way the ‘lower’ part of the society would have)
Why this is important for a country? Let’s look at what Americans do, (yes, always an American example) it is not that the media in America don’t report bad news or negative information, however they did a good job in keeping people’s spirit uplifted. But how?
This is something we need to think about.
Let’s be realistic, the situation in the US and in China is different, I will never try to compare the two despite the rest of the world or China itself want to. And, I seriously think the Mao era was a very uplifting time spiritually, yet it was too naive. People were so naive, like in North Korea now, people just generally thought life will be fine as long as they believe in their leaders.
I am not saying that we should not believe in our leaders, but all the time, I am very against extremes. It’s not good to be too naive, nor too aggressive, nor too suspicious.
The social media, or the whole media spectrum in China is going through a swinging process. All the countries do when looking for a right place to be. Actually back in Mao’s time, being naive could be a good thing, so that people don’t think of silly things other than production. Hence the country got developed.
But the time is way too different now, and to tell the truth, now China is more like a proper society with different classes, working at different levels, compare to 70 years ago, Mao made everyone farmers.
Now, we are in the process of people start realising there are an upper class and maybe ‘lower’ class in the country, which might be new to what we used to believe. So it is a process of realising and accepting. Yes, people need to accept the fact that not everyone is the son of all people/communist party, not everyone is a farmer, not everyone have to labour.
People are now at a stage of feeling denial, ‘why he is doing something we can’t do?’, it is cruel.
On the other hand, the law enforcement is being so extreme still, no matter online or offline. Online, there’s information spam; offline, there’s aggressive way of enforcing people to obey the ‘rules’. But what makes social conflict in nowadays different from that in medieval times, is that news travels way much faster than you and I could expect. Anything that happened in one region soon become a national discussion in a wink of an eye.
All these small incidences combined and inflated in the virtual world, making the society highly compressed online hence the conflicts making much bigger impact on people in the form of aggressiveness or depression.
What should media do about the circumstances in the future?
Indeed, the purpose of Journalism is to tell the truth, but in what way? And how much truth we actually need for a stable society?
Do we need lies? Do we not need lies? How should we take all the negative emotions burning on Weibo? While on the other hand people getting numb by governmental lies, aggressive opinion leaders and endless non-educational entertainment?
I can’t help but thinking, we are blowing all the information an emotion into a Chinese social media balloon, it will burst someday. But how long will it last till bursting? That’s what make me worried and unrest thought out the day.