Weibo prohibits the spread of “negative news” using homophones, prompting an uproar among the online community.
The management of China’s Weibo social network said on Wednesday, July 13, that it would take action against activities that employ “spelling mistakes” such as homophones and variants to publish harmful remarks on Weibo. The news sparked a firestorm of debate on the Internet almost immediately after it was made public. However, according to some researchers, relying on strict directives to compel the abolition of this unique cultural phenomenon in China is not viable.
According to RFA, the following terms are popular in Chinese online groups, including “Vase (Ping),” a homonym for Chinese President Xi Jinping, and “Helan Bank,” which is used instead of the phrase “Henan Bank.” It’s a sensitive subject, and Weibo has removed several tweets on depositors’ protests at rural banks in Henan. Netizens can generate many homonyms and publish many ridiculing posts to slow down the network moderators’ deletion rate.
However, homonyms like “Vase (Ping)” (Xi Jinping) and “Helan Bank” (Henan Bank) may soon be prohibited.
On July 13, Weibo announced that to preserve a civilized and healthy community ecological order, it will rectify the usage of homonyms, variants, and other “spelling mistakes” on Weibo to post and propagate false information. Increased screening and inquiry are among the actions being taken. By developing an incentive system and aggressively pushing publicity, Weibo will build an acceptable platform term management mechanism, enhance the keyword detection model, and educate users to standardize the usage of Hanzi. Weibo encourages users to express themselves civilly, standardize the use of Hanzi while engaging in discussions and report unlawful information.
This announcement has divided the Internet. Some people feel that the Internet world frequently uses homonyms to avoid the law and to broadcast pornographic and violent content. Weibo’s actions can successfully prohibit criminal behaviors such as the propagation of this harmful information while protecting groups of youngsters.
However, other netizens suggested that Weibo authorities clarify what constitutes negative news. Some people also recounted their experiences, claiming that even simple terms, whether posting on Weibo or leaving a remark during a live webcast, are frowned upon. For example, the word “money” must be rebuilt as “rice” or “manel”; otherwise, the system would automatically filter and eliminate it. Utilizing homonyms and variant terms is the last option. Some have called the new project a “literary jail.”
Ouyang Jinghua, a Hunan dissident, has also used “homonym” phrases online.
“June 4 is a controversial word; therefore, we put ‘May 35,'” Ouyang Jinghua told RFA. May has 31 days, plus four more, for 35 days, or June 4.”
The network system will automatically prohibit many Chinese news stories containing sensitive terms if they are published on the Internet. For example, the case of depositors protesting for the protection of their withdrawal rights at Henan Rural Banks drew widespread social attention. As a result, many netizens posted related articles that were deleted, so some people posted the homonym “Helan” instead of “Henan” in the comments to avoid censorship and removal.
People are between crying and laughing because of homonyms on the Internet.
Homonymes on the Internet, according to Mr. Wu Zuolai, an independent political scientist, are a unique cultural phenomenon in China.
He stated to RFA: “This is a cultural phenomenon that causes people not to know whether to cry or to laugh. Netizens express complex expressions using numbers, homonyms, or other popular methods. It has had serious ramifications for Chinese writing. In other words, Chinese characters can be used regularly. However, telling the truth will bring discredit to the government.”
He based Weibo’s decision on several recent events: “After the Shanghai shutdown episode and the bank debt situation in Zhengzhou, people began assembling and protesting offline in various ways.” Naturally, the authorities are concerned about this. In addition, the Communist Party of China’s 20th National Congress is set to begin, and the community may attack the government in various ways, including utilizing “puns,” which employ a variety of twisted phrases to mock the 20th National Congress and destroy the CCP’s tyranny.
Wu Zuolai stated that spelling mistakes are unavoidable in the online age. The essence of the issue is how the government would lawfully penalize offenders.
Furthermore, he added: “You can’t help but let other people’s spelling errors slide. Because even party and state officials frequently mispronounce words, ordinary people make a few spelling errors, which are not unlawful. People will undoubtedly be less liberal (more restricted), but there are many sensitive terms, and it is difficult to assess just on the legislation. That is the most crucial aspect.”
It is said that the Chinese authorities have been extremely concerned since the introduction of the Internet. The Internet may be simply unsuitable for China.