Silencing of bloggers as China pushes to tame 'self-media'

Blogger Ma Ling had an audience of 16 million before her social media accounts were deleted.
Blogger Ma Ling had an audience of 16 million before her social media accounts were deleted.

BEIJING • She was known as China's clickbait queen, an irreverent blogger who prescribed shopping to combat sadness ("better than sex, orgasms, strawberry cake") and makeovers to win back cheating husbands ("men are visual animals").

But late last month, blogger Ma Ling, who commanded an audience of more than 16 million, went conspicuously silent.

In the battle for control of the Chinese Internet, the authorities had designated her a threat to social stability, pointing to an article she published about a young man with cancer whose talent and virtue were not enough to overcome problems like corruption and inequality.

The state-run news media accused her of circulating false information, and her social media accounts were wiped from the Internet.

The silencing of the blogger, better known in China by her pen name Mimeng, reflects a broader campaign by President Xi Jinping to purge the public sphere of popular voices that the ruling Communist Party finds threatening.

"There is no longer any freedom of speech in China," blogger Jia Jia, who writes about history, said of the campaign.

Since coming to power in 2012, Mr Xi has imposed the most extensive censorship in China in years, flooding the airwaves with communist propaganda and reining in investigative journalists and social media celebrities.

Now Mr Xi is pushing to tame one of the most vibrant corners of the Chinese Internet: the more than one million self-help gurus, novelists, sports writers and other independent writers who make up the "self-media".

Since December, the authorities have closed more than 140,000 blogs and deleted more than 500,000 articles, according to the state-run news media, saying they contained false information, distortions and obscenities.

The party seems concerned that independent commentators are drowning out its propaganda messages. It also probably worries that independent media sources could help fuel social unrest this year, a year of politically sensitive anniversaries including 30 years since the crackdown in Tiananmen Square.

"Bloggers are seen as encouraging discontent in society and potentially causing social instability," said Professor Hu Xingdou, a political economist in Beijing.

But Prof Hu said the risk of unrest might increase if individuals were not permitted to air grievances online.

"Our society should allow multiple voices," he said. "Only in this way can discontent be released."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2019, with the headline 'Silencing of bloggers as China pushes to tame 'self-media''. Print Edition | Subscribe