China to punish netizens for ‘liking’ posts deemed harmful as protests rage

Internet users in China will soon be held liable for liking posts deemed illegal or harmful, sparking fears that the worlds second largest economy plans to control social media like never before, according to a media report.

China’s internet watchdog is stepping up its regulation of cyberspace as authorities intensify their crackdown on online dissent amid growing public anger against the country’s stringent Covid restrictions, CNN reported.

The new rules come into force from December 15, as part of a new set of guidelines published by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) earlier this month. The CAC operates under the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission chaired by President Xi Jinping.

The new rules have gained attention on social media in recent days and will take effect just weeks after an unprecedented wave of public anger started sweeping the country, CNN reported.

From Beijing to Shanghai, thousands of demonstrators protested in more than a dozen cities over the weekend, demanding an end to the country’s draconian Covid restrictions and calling for political freedoms, the report said.

Internet users are taking screenshots of content related to the protests to preserve them and using coded references in messages to evade censors, while the authorities are scrambling to scrub the internet of dissent.

The regulation is an updated version of one previously published in 2017. For the first time, it states that “likes” of public posts must be regulated, along with other types of comments. Public accounts must also actively vet every comment under their posts.

However, the rules didn’t elaborate on what kind of content would be deemed illegal or harmful.

“Liking something that is illegal shows that there is popular support for the issue being raised. Too many likes ‘can start a prairie fire’,” said David Zweig, professor emeritus at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, referring to a Chinese expression about how a single spark can start a far larger blaze.

“The threats to the [Chinese Communist Party] come from an ability to communicate across cities. The authorities must have been really spooked when so many people in so many cities came out at the same time,” he added, CNN reported.

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