The influx of COVID- 19 in China has exposed that the country has not been very transparent, and was not giving real information about the devastation unleashed and the number of COVID 19 deaths within the country. The microblogging sites have reported that the number of deaths and the casualties reported about the doctors, health professionals and Chinese nationals have been much more than reported. The international media has tried to look into the possibilities with probability and also looking into combinations and permutations related to the subject.
Even when in March 2020 when the whole world was reproachful of China for bringing on the pandemic, China’s deputy director in the foreign ministry stated that the COVID 19 was brought into the country by the US agents. This narrative and misinformation campaign were propagated purposefully by China through social media, and other print newspapers and websites. It has been found that Weibo which is one of those important social dialogue platforms in China has been discussing that how China controls the social media and prominent newspaper websites. When western countries claimed that it was a China virus, the communist country has started playing the victim card so as to accuse the US as a racist country.
China also wanted to propagate the fact that China is the only country which has the capacity to counter this virus and create antidotes against this COVID-19. Within China there were discussions with regard to SARS like disease in early December 2019; China has accused six persons and one doctor for spreading misinformation and disturbing public order. Through Weibo (Sina Microblog) messaging service there has been lot of debate with regard to viral pneumonia cases right since December 2019. It proclaimed that there has been ‘no human to human transmission’ and this virus was completely ‘preventable and controllable’. However, in January 2020, the users accepted that human to human transmission was possible and pandemic has impacted a small region. Subsequently, Chinese censorship agencies went hard on two social media apps which included WeChat and YY (video live streaming platform). China also enlisted more than 2000 words to snoop on the user’s data and messages. All the service providers and companies are held liable for the content and messages shared through their apps. This makes filtering of messages at two levels. One at companies/service provider level, and the other at government level.
China has been controlling and censoring its internet and digital interaction technology so as to curb any dissent against the regime, and take due cognizance of ethereal movement in digital platforms. This has been accentuated by the fact that China has deployed more than 3 hundred million cameras across China which can detect facial features through video recognition, and can pinpoint the person even in crowded places. China has strongly stressed on the data sovereignty and localisation as well as proposed a web architecture with Chinese characteristics. This is being meant to control online activities which might threaten the control of the Communist Party in China and also for any mass dissent against the country in future.
China has also installed the complex firewall systems known as ‘great digital wall’ to collect data related to the citizens activities, and also enforce digital governance within the country. In fact, it has been found that any of the search engines which put China and COVID 19 together has been rendered redundant and the search does not return very many results. As it is well known that Twitter, WhatsApp and YouTube are blocked while social media websites such as Facebook are just not operating in China. Within many of these social media websites and platforms operating in China there has been internal filters which screen customers messages and also suspend a person’s account even on indigenous platforms, if it violates Chinese censorship policy or challenges any decision taken by the communist party in the country.
As a result of which many of the citizens rely on local media and microblogging websites. At times it also generates template messages within the social media platforms so as to create a new narrative which should not accuse China as the main perpetrator of COVID 19 virus. News agencies such as Xinhua, CCTV, China daily, Global Times and other state sponsored portals have been working overtime so as to propose that China has also been a victim of the virus, and is not the main culprit as perpetrated by the World Health Organization (WHO) and other affected countries.
In fact, within China in order to use internet any person has to disclose its own real name and identity, and provide documentation in support of it. This completely weeds out anonymous users from the eco-system. Ren Zhiqiang, Chinese real estate tycoon who had written a scathing essay against the Chinese government after the outbreak of Wuhan virus went missing in early March 2020. Following global criticism of China’s late disclosure of the Wuhan virus, many European countries faced sharp criticism from the Chinese diplomats posted in European countries, and they went aggressive in defending the country which was known as ‘wolf warrior diplomacy’.
China extensively used Artificial Intelligence (AI) to trigger monitoring and censorship mechanism which meant that synonyms and semantically related words would be identified and the source would be located. One of the internet censorship research outfits Citizen Lab had pointed that China has filtered 516 such terms to suppress any information related to COVID-19. China has a history of suppressing information and preventing disclosure and this was seen during SARS epidemic inNovember2002 when delayed information to the world resulted more than 5000 Chinese getting infected with the virus and nearly 350 people getting killed. China suppressed the information to the world by more than three months after it was revealed in February 2003. In fact, the Chinese TV and all other print media houses worked in sync with Communist party diktats. China has a habit of curbing information and it must be held accountable for the deaths across the world because of COVID-19, as it has impacted livelihood and people have lost jobs, economies have gone under recession, and thousands of people have lost lives. The aftereffects of which would be felt for at least five years.