The Sina Weibo page of China's State Council. (Photo/Xinhua)
The majority of government officials in China are fearful of the power of microblogging services like Sina Weibo, the country's leading equivalent of Twitter, as numerous officials have been dismissed or expelled from the Communist Party after their corruption or wrongdoing was exposed by internet users.
A survey by the party-run People's Tribune magazine which canvassed 2,156 officials across the country showed that around 70% support the idea of using the internet as a tool in the fight against corruption, but more than 50% also fear the power of microblogs may increase social unrest, according to our Chinese-language sister paper Want Daily.
A majority of the officials polled said the influence of one individual official's high-profile corruption scandal on the public's regard for all holders of public office was of huge concern. Invasion of privacy and unwanted attention focused on trivial matters also concern them, the survey results show. Officials also fear that false accusations, malicious or not, may hurt innocent public servants.
Their fears are well-founded. Yang Dacai, director of the provincial administration of work safety in Shaanxi province, was sacked after photos of him sporting a luxury European watch and broad grin at the scene of a fatal traffic accident were circulated online. A video which went viral online of a Chongqing district party secretary named Lei Zhengfu having sex with a young woman led also to his dismissal. Social networking sites as Weibo have given internet users greater power than ever before to shine light on government and officials.
The People's Tribune said microblogging services are open spaces for public sharing which have unlimited influence and power and could polarize the public on controversial issues. Weibo users are often emotional when discussing official corruption scandals and make radical or extremists remarks which could increase animosity towards officials and the rich, thus fomenting social instability, the magazine said.
The internet can increase the transparency of government information and allow people to hold officials to account, said internet expert Hu Yanping. Officials should not be afraid of the social networking service if they are law-abiding.
Yang Dacai 楊達才
Lei Zhengfu 雷政富
Hu Yanping 胡延平