Facts, Facts, and Facts! ACIAC Visiting Professor Guifang Zhang Discusses Recent Chinese Internet Events

Provision of factual information is essential before media professionals in China can help to ameliorate prejudices and prevent extreme opinions from engulfing the media scene, according to ACIAC Visiting Professor Guifang Zhang in her public seminar talk on 9 April 2018 entitled “Chinese Internet Events: Facts and Opinions.”

China has the world’s largest population of internet users and Chinese netizens, through multiple platforms such as Weibo, QQ and Wechat, participate actively in the technological transformation of their society. Professor Zhang looked into two recent events that received close scrutiny on the internet. The first was a case of alleged abuse of children known on the Net as the “Red-Yellow-Blue Kindergarten Child Abuse Case”. The second was a case known as the “Tang Lanlan Rape Case”. When the two events unfolded on the internet, the entire country was overwhelmed by extreme sentiments, and these in turn were bred by partial facts or non-facts.

Professor Zhang argued that the two internet events show what can happen when hard-core facts are not produced to support arguments. The unavailability of factual information can lead to an overflow of public opinions that are in turn warped and distorted by “fake news” and rumours. Because facts are scarce, unfocused and extreme public opinions take over and people rely on their existing prejudices. In the Chinese context, such a flood of prejudiced opinions frequently leads to a simultaneous ban by the government both on information and the expression of opinions.

Professor Zhang concluded that, while today’s Chinese media environment is being thoroughly reshaped by fast evolving technologies, rampant forces of commodification and more rigorous government control, media professionals can still play a positive role if they are provided with relevant factual information.