Netizens deserved praise as online watchdog

Updated: 2012-09-04 21:27


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BEIJING - China's netizens deserve the credit as they bring once no-no topics for ordinary people to the public agenda, stirring waves of criticism and posing pressure on the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) that endeavors to build harmony and cement governance.

The latest example might be the Giggly Brother. It's no laughing matter for Yang Dacai, a work safety official in the northwestern province of Shaanxi.

Yang was initially criticized for smiling at the scene of a recent deadly traffic accident site, but his real trouble came after the online critics turned their attention to his shining wrist in the online photo post.

The muckrakers dug out a total of 11 pricy wristwatches Yang had on him in different posts, and questioned the findings as evidence of possible corruption.

Now the comedy has turned into a personal scandal for the official, with the provincial disciplinary body vowing severe punishment if any violation is found.

The dramatic turn in Yang's story signaled a warning to other officials that even the netizens' naughty mockery might be lethal to them if they are not clean.

Another official currently under fire is Fang Daguo from Yuexiu District of south China's Guangzhou city who was heavily criticized after he was alleged by a microblogger to have beaten an airline stewardess. Fang has been suspended from his official post .

The scandals of the Giggly Brother and the bad-tempered Fang highlight the tough challenges the CPC is facing in building credit and consolidating its governance as people seek channels to speak out about their complaints and criticism in an era with frequent occurrences of social conflicts.

Officials like Yang and Fang never used to be challenged by a nobody like a grassroot netizen or a stewardess, but the development of the Internet and social networking services (SNS) like weibo, or China's equivalent of Twitter, has made a difference.

Today, a post by an obscure microblogger may attract numerous hits and be retweeted to many others as long as the topic touches a sensitive nerve, usually those involving officials' misconduct, social injustice or moral crisis.

Perhaps no one can expect the great strength a microblog post may amass, but nobody would dare to neglect its possible impact, as the stories of Yang and Fang have shown.

With more than 500 million Internet users and more than 300 million  microbloggers, the new information technology has given Chinese people more freedom of expression.

The netizens have demonstrated passion, courage and wisdom in talking about and criticizing government affairs and social injustice, forming a powerful force using the Internet and SNS. This brings together both the country's elites of intellectuals, lawyers, entrepreneurs and grassroots of college students and young company employees, the most politically active group.

New apps are convenient and safe for users, offering ordinary people an important platform of expression, where they can talk about and criticize almost everything they think proper, without worrying about revenge as long as what they say does not breach laws and regulations.

The challenge, however, unnecessarily means bad news for the world's largest political party with more than 80 million members, as giving the people wider access to rights and freedom has been the Party's pledge.  This was underlined again in an important speech by President Hu Jintao in July prior to a key national congress of the CPC.

Premier Wen Jiabao also promised on another occasion that the government would create conditions for people to monitor officials.

A free-speaking army of netizens means a lingering challenge that the Party has to face, and it has to seek a way out to maintain its image through strict, effective discipline designs to oversee and regulate its cadres and members. And the online critics are surely helpful.

Taking netizens as an uncrowned watchdog, the Party may find the online opinion leaders can serve as a supplement to its discipline inspection commissions, a mechanism that oversees official integrity.

The authorities should learn to use the public platform to "listen to"  and gather public opinions and then seek ways to defuse possible unsafe elements that may cause instability.