China launches major campaign on social media regulation – will online freedom of expression become a thing of the past?

The integration of social media within society has become commonplace, with users exposed to political, systemic and legal ideology freely and frequently. Ideas posed by journalists, academics and activists that would be rejected in mainstream media can freely circulate across social media platforms; exposing users to ‘real’ uncensored information and creating new, ‘modern’ political and societal ideology. For the general population, this freedom of expression seems vital, however, with global political issues rife in society, governments are beginning to panic that social media could open our eyes to ‘too much’.

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China cracks down

In their most recent attempt to restrict freedom of expression, China is targeting popular social media messaging services such as WeChat, in order to prevent ‘the spreading of rumours.’ Ruled by the Communist Party, President Xi Jinping believes that social media if unregulated could expose users to ‘rumours’ and new ideology, threatening the position of the Communist Party.

China aggressively regulates much of the internet. Over the month of March, the popular chatting service WeChat removed over 40 accounts displaying information about economic and political matters. If users of social media in China including ‘weibo’ do post false or ‘misleading’ information, they could now even face prison time.

Is this becoming the new norm?

In regards to banning and prohibiting social media sites, China is not the only country to enforce heavy regulation. Iran, Syria, Bangladesh, Egypt and, most notably, North Korea have all banned social media site Facebook, if only for a short period of time. Many of these bans were the result of government fear or political crises, and the general consensus that the public should not have access to opposing or controversial political ideology.

Social media today – the UK

In the UK, social media is almost a necessity for users, including both business and personal use. Organisations use social media to connect with their audiences, relate to customers and ultimately sell a product or service to the public. Social media also offers a window into differing public opinion, as seen recently during the European Elections.

Social media, to the general public, offers hope and education during times of crises, and provides opinion and information that could change political views heavily. I know from personal experience that using social media has changed some of my views. Heavy regulation to eliminate opposing political views however is surely crushing democracy, and with more and more bans, suspicion and regulation, it is reasonable to assume that online freedom expression could soon become a thing of the past.

If you are interested in the effects social media has had on the UK and across the world, check out our other blogs ‘First it was magazines, now it’s social media’ and ‘How social media is changing the world.’


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