It’s an order the police probably don’t hear every day: use more social media. However, in China, the police are being told just that.
Huang Ming, Vice-Minister of Public Security in China, delivered a message on Monday September 26th 2011 that encouraged law enforcement officials to make use of China’s social networking sites. In China, where there are strict practices and laws around Internet use commonly referred to as the “Great Firewall”, popular sites such as Facebook and Twitter are not available. However, China has many country specific sites which make use of similar social media, and with the world’s largest population at 485 million, there is no shortage of users. In fact, it is estimated that there is roughly 200 million social media users. Weibo – a Chinese microblogging site – is particularly popular.
Huang Ming posted on the Beijing Public Service microblog that, “Internet users are one of the major groups of our society and they are not satisfied. Public security microblogging should gradually cross the country to each province and city and form the backbone of public security.” He stated that the goal of social media use should be to“ensure social openness and dispel misunderstandings.” He also noted that the Chinese police force has opened over 4000 social media accounts for the close to 5000 policemen across the country who will be using social networks.
The push for police to get more involved in social media is likely a result of Chinese citizens becoming progressively disillusioned with official government news and reports. Due to strict government influence, Chinese newspapers are easily swayed by government intervention. There have been several reports of stories being banned if they do not reinforce the status quo or if they might be read as anti-establishment. In response to this, many citizens have been turning to the Internet, including social media, to voice their concerns, get news, and make their stories and voices heard.
For example, last week, a Chinese tourist was dragged from his hotel room in Beijing and beaten before being dumped unconscious on the road side. The incident resulted in Internet outrage in China. It is this sort of incident which Huang Ming is likely trying to decrease and avoid by having a stronger police presence on the Internet in China. However, he may get more than he bargained for. As any company with a social media presence will tell you, there are distinct disadvantages to social media use. From miscommunications to heat of the moment posts, there’s a lot that can go wrong. It will be interesting to see if this increased police presence will prove positive for Chinese officials.