An Examination on the Two Weaknesses in China’s Information Management System

China has the world’s most stringent information environment, and this tight control system is sufficient for China to recommend and train many countries around the world in information control theory and practice, as well as recommending relevant software and hardware for firewalls in particular.

The question is whether this information control system, which has withstood several obstacles and huge catastrophes, is perfect and reliable enough to reassure people.

Our conclusion is that this is not at all the case.

In January this year, human trafficking incidents at Xuzhou municipality of Jiangsu Province at eastern-central China had come to light. The surge in public opinion has produced a great atmosphere for information propagation, with numerous assertions and rumors disseminated through indistinguishable news sources. For example, in recent years, there have been several reports of female remains floating in the river of Feng County at Xuzhou. According to locals, many of the abducted women were tortured to death before being sold to medical schools. Some time ago, certain netizens sorted out official reports and found that in Feng County, there have been at least seven cases of women dying in rivers or wells, and an unnamed woman died in a wheat field.

A tweet by “Proud Girl”, an organization of netizens that follows up with the trafficking and abuses, noted that according to the recollections of the local elderly, from 1985 to 2000, more than 30 women who were abducted and trafficked died in Dongji Village. This village was also where the recently exposed incident of a mentally disturbed woman who was chained to a wall and who gave birth to eight children happened.

“Some were beaten to death, some committed suicide by drinking pesticides,” an old man disclosed that when one or two of the abductees died, they were “thrown into the river” first. When more died, people from Fengxian County came to “collect the corpses” and they were later sold to Xuzhou Medical University, or to Nanjing Medical University, which is a little further away. “Proud Girl” noted that, “this is an industry that gain profits from both the livings and the dead. The locals think this is mere business, and no one has ever felt any guilt in it”.

Such information spreads rapidly online, although its genuineness remains to be confirmed. However, its impact on the internet public opinion sphere has already been established.

From the standpoint of information distribution, the churning of fake news will incite social fury, resulting in public outrage. The information distribution of this occurrence, from Fengxian County to Xuzhou, and from Xuzhou to Jiangsu Province, demonstrates that the present information management system has its flaws, and public opinion has been completely out of control.

First and foremost, in the public opinion environment, there is a relay phenomenon, i.e., tacit understanding among the public. This requires minimal structure as long as there is a focus. Thus, there is a clear, one-on-one transmission relay phenomenon from the sphere of information distribution, which may have started with online media, then the press, then the art world, and finally academic institutions. Such chain of transmission would be difficult to control under the existing information dissemination system. The control of information after all, is always in a state of follow-up, and it is a normal information feedback phenomenon that relevant departments and localities are struggling to cope with.

Secondly, although the focus of public opinion is on one issue, it is multifaceted, and each aspect is comparable to a new information point. When a focal point is revealed, information is disseminated one after the other and spreads ubiquitously. For example, in the Fengxian incident, the story went from one woman to several women, then to the “floating corpses”, a single focal point has become many multiple points, and would be impossible to prevent and block it.

To certain recent trends in information development, significant changes have occurred in the information environment as a result of the chained woman incident in Xuzhou. Information control therefore, is not an impenetrable iron wall as cracks have surfaced. Could these flaws lead to more serious problems? Will it cause social unrest? This is a major issue worthy of concern and attention in the future.

From the point of view of the principle of information dissemination, the above phenomenon can be explained. This is because the speed of information dissemination is faster than the speed of control, the control always follows the focus, and only at the information nodes. If the extension of the event focus is rapidly extending, such information control system would be ineffective. Of course, this could happen by chance, as it requires the focus of public opinion to be on the source of information. As a result, the occurrence of such information storm that is out of control remain uncommon.

In fact, a similar phenomenon is a worldwide phenomenon. In the online world outside China, although the control system for information is different (China relies on information control in a special information environment, Western society relies on multiple error correction mechanisms in an open information environment), for obvious reasons, false information will go viral due to the characteristics of information dissemination in the internet age. When a researcher analyzed the recent fake news of a U.S. reporter that the Canadian Mounted Police trampled two people to death, although it was accompanied with a message that it was fake news, the rapid spread of information (various retweets) quickly buried the original tweet in the timeline. Some analysts see this as “no flinching, no apology, no accountability, just a Twitter storm”.

Chan Kung
Chan Kung
Founder of Anbound Think Tank in 1993, Chan Kung is now ANBOUND Chief Researcher. Chan Kung is one of China’s renowned experts in information analysis. Most of Chan Kung‘s outstanding academic research activities are in economic information analysis, particularly in the area of public policy.