George Carlin had seven dirty words you couldn’t say on American TV in the 1970s. Chinese Internet chief Lu Wei has at least 25 he wants to purge from the country’s cyberspace.
From the Mandarin-equivalent of the F-bomb to the more innocuous-sounding “your Mom,” Lu’s agency, the Cyberspace Administration of China, highlighted the words Tuesday as the most popular examples of “coarse language” saturating the country’s Internet. The agency used a symposium attended by representatives from Tencent Holdings Ltd., Sina Corp. and other Chinese Internet companies to press for cleaner language online.
The campaign against dirty words -- announced during a government cybersecurity conference in Beijing -- is the latest bid under President Xi Jinping to sanitize China’s Internet. Authorities have in recent months banned “unsound” online account names, limited political news sent via messaging apps and ordered the deletion of thousands of social-networking posts in a “Cleaning the Web” push.
Hu Yong, a journalism professor at Peking University, said the widespread use of dirty words made such direct action more difficult in this case.
“To control the use of coarse language is to control the moral behavior of the public, which is very hard through administrative means,” Hu said. “The government has to rely on the Internet companies to do so, but such micromanagement of cyberspace has the potential risk of turning the booming Internet industry into a backwater.”
The “Seven Dirty Words” in Carlin’s famous comedy routine referred to a series of English terms then unspoken on the U.S. airwaves. The 25 dirty words highlighted by the Cyberspace Administration on Tuesday were the most popular examples of coarse language on Sina Weibo last year, according to a study conducted by the official People’s Daily.
The most popular term -- literally “your Mom,” but with a more offensive connotation -- was used almost a quarter of a billion times, according to the survey. China had 649 million Internet users as of the end of last year, according to the China Internet Network Information Center.
“We should clear the smog of coarse language,” Cyberspace Administration spokesman Jiang Jun told the gathering. “And the Internet companies should take the responsibility to do so.”
The terms cited by the agency have become so widespread they have begun to sneak into more traditional media sites, and even headlines. In addition to calling for cleaner language, the government has also hired more than half a million retirees to help monitor activities at Internet cafes, said Zhang Zhanbin, an official with the State Council’s Committee for the Care of the Next Generation.
Sina Weibo was considering adding “those violent, vulgar and insulting words to its filtering system,” Yan Yuanping, a senior manager for government affairs for the Twitter-like social media service, told the forum. “The system could automatically dispose of posts if netizens write or comment with these words,” Yan said.
Sina has also hired people to monitor online comments on news stories to “influence and lead netizens” in public debate, said Zhu Xiaoguang, deputy editor-in-chief for Sina.com
Ma Zhi, editor-in-chief of the education section of QQ.com, said the Internet firm was also trying to guide public discussion on its sites. The company audits all online posts and comments before publication, Ma said.
— With assistance by Keith Zhai