Latest News:  

English>>China Society

An insult to free speech?

By Chen Tian  (Global Times)

08:10, April 08, 2013

Lin Miaoke's Weibo

When 14-year-old Lin Miaoke, who made headlines in 2008 when she lip-synced a patriotic song at the Olympic opening ceremony, uploaded pictures of herself making noodles onto Sina Weibo she had no idea a torrent of online abuse was waiting for her.

That was just the beginning of the debacle. When she told her 2 million Weibo followers that certain harmful online comments should be "eradicated" so they couldn't "pollute the Internet environment," she unwittingly placed herself at the center of a war of words between liberal and conservative campaigners, with the influential former head of Google China, Kai-Fu Lee, leading the liberal charge with the banner of free speech held high.

Lee, who has 36 million Weibo followers, posted comments on the Twitter-like social network saying that "freedom of speech is an inalienable right… the best way to establish a healthy environment is to allow more comments instead of subjectively blocking them."

The situation quickly escalated as Web users took sides, as the teenager remained trapped in the middle.

Freedom or verbal violence?

Lin's mother, surnamed Liu, told the Global Times that an Internet environment free of any "unhealthy comments" would be ideal for her daughter, who was taught to behave politely in real life as well as on the Internet.

"People shouldn't comment uncontrollably online," Liu said. "Comments and opinions should be freely expressed, but defamation and insults should not."

Evidently, not everyone agreed. Despite the fact that Lin's postings calling for a clean atmosphere on the Internet were "liked" by Weibo users more than 2,400 times and reposted over 41,000 times, Lee's response also received wide coverage with over 11,000 reposts and 3,600 likes.

The discussion had hit upon a particularly touchy subject on Weibo - Internet freedom.

Beyond the debate however, Liu was more focused on her daughter, and said she was not the only parent calling for an end to nasty language online. The mother said that her celebrity daughter and other relatives will turn to Tencent's WeChat, a more private platform, to share information after the Weibo incident.

Those arguing against Lee's claims that all speech should be protected received a boost when the People's Daily last week waded into the debate by publishing a commentary on the affair, entitled "Freedom of speech should have boundaries."

Experts remain divided. Wang Xiaoyu, a professor at Tongji University in Shanghai and a high profile media commentator, told the Global Times that although online verbal violence was not desirable, forcible measures involving laws and regulations to clean up such "inappropriate comments" could be counterproductive.

"There's no way to clearly define online verbal violence, so any laws and regulations to ban such comments can easily be used as a tool to suppress freedom of speech," Wang said.

If insulting a 14-year-old girl wasn't enough, the case still had uglier depths to plumb.

Following the debate on Lin's case, fabricated claims that Lee had criminal records in the US were circulated online, and some Web users even posted some similar insulting words targeting Lee's family members. Somewhat ironically given Lee's stance, most were quickly deleted.

Wang suggested that a more appropriate solution was education for the young on how to use the Internet and social network services responsibly.

Zhang Zhi'an, an associate professor at the School of Communication and Design at Sun Yat-sen University, echoed Wang, saying that a rigid system that censors online comments shouldn't be used, even though the system had laudable goals of protecting teenage Internet users such as Lin.

"If a teenage celebrity like Lin cannot handle the pressure from an open Internet, parents should take the responsibility and be more cautious when instructing their child on using Weibo," Zhang Zhi'an told the Global Times.

When faced with harsh criticism and insults like this, he said, Lin and other young celebrities could choose to close the comments area and would have to learn to deal with the problem.

Traps for young users

Many Weibo users said that Lin was slandered online because her parents had thrust her into the spotlight and had failed to protect her.

"Lin Miaoke might not understand that the Internet world could be dirty and dangerous, but her parents should know that well," wrote one Weibo user. "It's her parents who didn't protect her properly and put her amongst a group of wolves."

"If a child is hit by a car on the street, do you close off the streets and blame the civil planning department first?" asked another user. "No, you blame the parents first."

Although China has Internet management regulations that relate to users' behaviors online, it doesn't have specific guidelines for teenagers and children who could easily be influenced by sexual or violent content.

Zhang Wenjuan, deputy director of the Beijing Children Legal Aid and Research Center, told the Global Times that China's parents need more guidance on how to instruct their children on safely using the Internet.

"Education for parents regarding safe Internet usage for their children is pretty limited," she said. "This instruction should be a public service. The government or social organizations should research the matter and provide guidelines for parents and their children."

Zhang Wenjuan also noted the dangers to children online. "Psychological poison on the Internet, such as violent and sexual information, is as dangerous as toxic food," she said. "Parents have to minimize the risk of toxic information hurting their children before harm takes place."

For parents of celebrities such as Lin, Zhang Wenjuan suggested they ensure their child has a lower profile.

"Public figures face more diverse pressure from society," she said. "The parents have to be more careful and give the children a safer and quieter environment to study in at school."

We Recommend:

Shine on stage - Wuju Opera in photos

The 'milky river'- seriously polluted water

Terminal care - Go gentle into that good night

Photo story: Terminally ill man and his snack shop

New born tiger cubs meet with tourists in Jiangsu

Dawn of living dead in funeral stunt

China's weekly story (2013.3.23-3.28)

Floating bridge dates back to Song Dynasty

'How are you, my child'- loss of the only child

Email|Print|Comments(Editor:GaoYinan、Chen Lidan)

Leave your comment0 comments

  1. Name


Selections for you

  1. Identities of pilots killed in fighter jet crash

  2. Logistical support forces' support work

  3. Indian Festival of Colors marked

  4. 18th bird-flu case recorded

  5. Bijiashan Wind Power Plant put into operation

  6. Mortuary workers try to offer comfort

  7. Beijing gets new colors

  8. Windows to the unknown

  9. Meeting for private sector at BAF

  10. BFA 2013 kicks off


  1. Soros upbeat on China's economic transformation
  2. Chinese innovations to benefit the world: Bill Gates
  3. Reflecting on rules that allow bad apples
  4. Cold food honors loyal man with a warm heart
  5. Safety concerns over state-owned coal mines
  6. New age of gender blending in China
  7. 'Tomb Sweeping Day' distorts meaning of Qingming
  8. Xi's visit starts new era of China-Africa relations
  9. Opinion: It's high time to stop hijacking Tibetans
  10. Significant risks remain for global economy:BRICS

What’s happening in China

Our luxuriously departed Paper-made "luxury" goods replace paper money as top offerings to the dead during Qingming

  1. Deadly colliery blasts to be fully investigated
  2. Third miner dead in SW China colliery flood
  3. Six C China officials die in car crash
  4. Sanya probes sex party rumors
  5. Taiwan man missing in Beijing mountain