China’s super-efficient petitioning system (just kidding) was set to leap into the digital age on Monday with the unveiling of the “State Bureau for Letters and Calls” website. The leap was more of a stumble-and-faceplant, however, as the site crashed almost immediately under heavy traffic. Something about “not going to a black jail” just seemed to haul in the web traffic.
The website (it’s back online now) is something of a double-edged sword. On one hand, it provides a way for citizens to utilize the national petitioning system without trekking to Beijing, and without potentially being imprisoned by local authorities. On the other hand, petitioners are largely ignored even when they do make it all the way to Beijing, and it’s much easier to turn a blind eye when petitions are just sitting in one’s inbox.
The Wall Street Journal reports:
Many of China’s Internet users argued that the online petitioning system, like its real-world counterpart, both suffers limitations and offers avenues for abuse. Online petitioners have to register with their verified information including national identification number, potentially exposing them to retribution. Additionally, the site only works on Internet Explorer and limits the amount of supporting materials that can be uploaded to a paltry two megabytes for each case.
“Isn’t it easier for local officials to suppress complaints and take revenge?” said one Weibo user.
Additionally, Tech In Asia notes:
In its fight to battle corruption and abuses of power, Chinese government bodies have launched a series of “citizen reporting” websites over the years, and they almost always get demolished by high levels of early traffic. An anti-corruption website launched in 2007, for example, crashed on the first day due to unexpected traffic. A similar site launched in 2009 also went down on day one for the exact same reason.
But apparently neither of these experiences were enough to convince officials that sites like this need to be able to handle a lot of traffic. But how could that be possible? Is it just incompetence, or is it intentional? It’s impossible to say for sure, but it’s easy to understand why Chinese people are cynical, especially given that many of the third-party anti-corruption sites (i.e. sites that weren’t developed by the government) that have sprung up over the years worked fine even under heavy traffic until the government itself shut them down.
Personally, this author would love to see a venn-diagram of the web traffickers who were responsible for crashing both the government’s petitioning website and Renmin University’s graduation-hottie page.