China Losing Control

China’s propaganda mouthpiece is in some ways just your typical, old-school news outlet, stumbling its way through the brave new world of social media. 

The difference from other newspapers is that from the perspective of the People’s Daily, losing control over the online conversation could have dire consequences.

In a lengthy essay published Monday, Yang Zhenwu, chief editor of the Chinese Communist Party’s flagship newspaper, warned that Beijing could make a “historic mistake” if it fails to control new media and harness it for propaganda.

“To lose speech is to lose power,” he wrote — apparently without irony — about the challenge facing state media.

It isn’t exactly a new message: China has been “perfecting” its “Internet controls” for years. 

But it comes amid renewed crackdowns on social media accounts after a high profile loyalty tour by Chinese President Xi Jinping to the three central Communist Party-controlled media outlets in February.

Mr. Xi paid particular attention to the news outlets’ online operations and called on official news media to “reflect the Party’s will and views.” 

Chinese social media services are generally more freewheeling than traditional media, but have been held to gradually stricter censorship.

Mr. Yang’s essay emphasized that social media is not only not exempt from this loyalty campaign, it must lead it. 

That point might be of interest Mark Zuckerberg, who was in Beijing over the weekend as part of his long-running charm offensive to convince China’s censors to allow Facebook back in the country. 

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Some people believe the party’s publications, TV channels and radio stations should direct public opinion, while there is a ‘hole in one side of the net” for local publications or new media,” Mr. Yang wrote. 

“This kind of belief is wrong and harmful.”

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