Web celebrities should follow bottom line
The rapid development of the Internet has greatly opened up the space for public discourse in Chinese society. But the emergence of the dynamic online opinion platform has been accompanied by growing concerns over what kind of online opinion environment Chinese society needs and how it can capitalize on the dividends arising from the high-tech era.
A recent forum on Internet celebrities’ social responsibilities has offered some insights into the way people express their views online. The bottom line for online speech, which was agreed among a group of Internet celebrities, was described as strict adherence to the law, the socialist system, morality and authenticity of information, as well as the protection of national interests, the public’s legal rights and interests and social order.
With the proliferation of grassroots reporting in China, people from different sectors of society have amassed online followings and emerged as a new group of opinion leaders. These online celebrities play an important role in shaping public views. For instance, many Internet celebrities called for “rational patriotism” after the outbreak of violent protests against Japan’s illegal “purchase” of China’s Diaoyu Islands last year.
However, online opinion leaders can also have a negative influence if they resort to insults, or spread rumors and false information. All too often, online discussions about highprofile public events or some complex problems during the country’s period of transition have turned into exchanges of bitter words or personal attacks. Some online arguments have already turned into physical confrontations offline, and the popular micro-blogger and writer Li Chengpeng even had a knife tossed at him during an autograph session in Beijing earlier this year. While the failure of some Internet celebrities to verify online information also encourages the spread of rumors.
A mature public space should allow different views to be expressed within the limits of the law. Online opinion leaders have gained an increasingly powerful voice by influencing their followers and misuse of this power will have damaging consequences. Internet celebrities should use their influence responsibly.
Confrontation and conflict do not solve problems. Only through negotiation and dialogue and by establishing a reasonable communication and supervision system can society better channel people’s concerns and pay due attention to their weal and woe.
Complaints and questioning without rational discussion and excessive outbursts of social discontent will only lead to Web rage. The expression of such emotions by Internet users will only fuel the spread of negative feelings and undermine social development.
Adhering to the bottom line will help counter the undesirable development of the online opinion space that has occurred in recent years. The bottom line for online speech is a code of conduct that all Internet users should respect and hold on to. Different opinion holders, especially those online celebrities with a powerful voice, need to enhance their awareness of the bottom line to facilitate the establishment of a mature opinion mechanism that can effectively channel people’s concerns and give full play to the supervisory function of public discourse.