Jan 30, 2021 - World

China is arresting citizens for posting criticism on social media

Illustration of the shadow of the Twitter bird logo over a big red button
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

China is imprisoning ordinary citizens who criticize the government on foreign social media — posts not even seen in China, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: Human rights activists told The Journal this is a change from the past, when postings abroad were deterred through detentions and harassment.

  • "The growing use of prison sentences marks an escalation of China’s efforts to control narratives and strangle criticism outside China’s cloistered internet," per The Journal.

Details: "Chinese authorities have sentenced more than 50 people to prison in the past three years for using Twitter and other foreign platforms — all blocked in China — allegedly to disrupt public order and attack party rule," The Journal writes.

  • Twitter users typically with hundreds of followers, "though one had fewer than 30 followers when he was detained" — were arrested for criticizing state leaders and the Communist Party, and for discussing Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Beijing, according to court records obtained by The Journal.

The big picture: Government scrutiny over social media activity has increased as more people in China turn to the internet for news.

  • The Cyberspace Administration of China on Jan. 22 released new regulations for public internet accounts that ban "fabricating information, inciting extreme emotions, plagiarism, cyberbullying, blackmailing and artificially inflating the number of clicks," the South China Morning Post writes.
  • This allows the Chinese government to have more control over what gets shared on social media.
Go deeper