China should take government trolls to task, after recent fiasco with India

By Maria Siow

Official Chinese social media accounts recently published, then deleted, a series of inflammatory and offensive posts making light of India’s current coronavirus crisis.

On Sina Weibo, one post by the Communist Party’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission – the country’s top law enforcement body – juxtaposed an image depicting China’s successful launch of the Tianhe module into space with another showing grim cremation pyres in India. “China lighting a fire versus India lighting a fire”, the caption said.

In an earlier post, the commission noted that a crematorium for dogs in New Delhi had been transformed into a human crematorium.

Another post which appeared on the Ministry of Public Security’s microblogging account compared China’s “fire god mountain” – the name of the emergency Covid-19 hospital built in Wuhan last year – with a photograph of a mass cremation in India.

All the posts were deleted after they sparked outrage, including from Chinese netizens who admonished the departments for lacking sympathy and rejoicing in the tragedy of others. However, there were no clarifications from the accounts in question.

The nationalistic “wolf warrior” approach by China’s diplomats has captured international attention but one could argue that while unpalatable, they have not overstepped the boundaries of human decency.

The recent trolling behaviour raises questions about what Chinese government departments deem to be acceptable conduct, and if Beijing realises such antics could sabotage its ongoing bid to help its neighbours cope with the devastating fallout of the pandemic. The insensitive posts are counterproductive especially when China has pledged to assist India in battling the health crisis. They also bear no resemblance to Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s vision of China as a “compassionate, committed and responsible” country that aims to “bring more warmth and hope to the world”.

In January this year, in a fresh bid to crack down on fake news and other online activities perceived to be harmful, China’s cyberspace watchdog revised its rules governing public social media accounts.

The Cyberspace Administration of China said posts that involved fabricated information and incited extreme emotions, as well as actions such as plagiarism, cyberbullying, blackmailing and artificially inflating the number of post clicks would be banned from February.

But government social media accounts also need to adhere to the same rules regarding inappropriate content that businesses, news organisations and individuals have to abide by.

It is time for official social media accounts to remember that they represent the government. Better still, they should be taken to task over their derisive statements.

China should promptly impose legislation targeting errant official social media posts to ensure those responsible face the repercussions for the materials disseminated.

Official government accounts should, naturally, be held to higher standards in terms of supervision and management. Not doing so would imply that their behaviours are accepted, or worse, endorsed by the powers that be. (Courtesy