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Forum on virtual society discusses online accountability

| 2013-03-18 | Hits:

There have been more than 500 million netizens in China by the end of 2011   The Second  Forum on Virtual Society Management Innovation and National Security was held at Huazhong University of Science and Technology on December 29th, 2012. Attendees discussed how to strengthen social management on the internet and how to promote orderly network operation in accordance with laws and regulations, as was stipulated in the Report of 18th National Congress of the CPC.   According to Gu Liping, director of the School of Journalism and Communication at Nanjing Normal University, “virtual crowds” on the internet are like dispersed settlements; however, these disparate groups of netizens may converge into a single mass in response to particular circumstances or when an opportunity presents itself.   Speaking from a sociological perspective, Xia Xueluan, professor from the department of sociology at Peking University, noted the parallels between virtual society and reality, expressing his belief that the former is based on the latter. As an example, he observed that the activists in virtual society are real people whose attitudes, behaviors, beliefs and will influence virtual society. As such, one could say that “virtual society is not virtual,” in that it is animated by reality. Xie further

commented that online interactions are a type of social interaction, distinguished from other interactions merely in form.   Meng Qingguo, secretary of the Party committee of the School of Public Policy and Management at Tsinghua University, emphasized that “virtual society is based on the internet and the two are co-dependent. There is, however, an essential difference between the two, and therefore management of virtual society is not simply internet management.” Virtual society management is not merely about technical problems, but complicated social work.    Gao Xiaoping, vice president of the Chinese Public Administration Society, referenced the theory of anonymity to comment on online social interaction, elaborating that people may easily violate social norms due to lack of social awareness that is normally instilled by a sense of social identity. From this observation, Gao asserted that effective management of virtual society can only be implemented when each member has a sense of identity and awareness of his or her responsibilities.   “Virtual society is not independent from or external to real society; rather, it is a part of real society—an extension and reflection of real society in cyberspace,” Meng added. Xia further commented that it is necessary to set up a system of identity recognition online whereby a netizen’s cyber identity could be effectively coordinated with his or her actual identity so that cybercrimes can be more easily investigated and prevented, like crimes in actual society. He also suggested that internet privacy should be clearly defined and protected through legislation.   Championing more accountability and presence of the law online, Gu Liping said that violators should be punished for their illegal actions, and people should be responsible for what they have publicized on the internet. “The internet has not only brought people together, but has also provided a space that is impervious to law or morality. This vacuum may account for many irrational behaviors in cyberspace, as netizens can seemingly do whatever they want with little or no consequences.”   Gao regards cultivating self-discipline among netizens as the keystone for effective management of virtual society. He noted that self-discipline could be strengthened by making netizens aware that their interactions are social in nature and traceable to them. He believes a strict management system should be established in order to keep order within the online community and ensure that violators of that order do not go unpunished. The natural extension is that in a virtual society governed by law, the society’s members will better abide by rules and regulations. Xia added that anonymity accounts for the most heinous acts in cyberspace. Since it is often ineffectual simply to request that netizens surf with more self-discipline, Xia noted it is necessary to introduce legal mechanisms on the internet.   Ming Haiying is a reporter from Chinese Social Sciences Today.   The Chinese version appeared in Chinese Social Sciences Today, No. 400, Jan 4.   (Translated by Jiang Hong)   Chinese link: http://www.csstoday.net/Item/41189.aspx