Under investigation for alleged corruption, Lu Wei, China’s former internet czar, is receiving a rather appropriate send-off from Chinese social media — total silence.
On Tuesday, China’s top anti-graft watchdog announced that Lu, who had headed the powerful Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) for three years before surprisingly stepping down in 2016, was under investigation for “serious violations of party discipline” — party parlance for corruption.
News of the probe was reported by Chinese state media, however, the country’s vibrant social media networks have been eerily quiet about the sudden downfall of the high-profile senior official who regularly hobnobbed with foreign tech execs.
China Digital Times revealed why yesterday, publishing a leaked directive which ordered that, regarding the investigation into Lu Wei, censors should “close comments on websites, WeChat public accounts, Weibo etc” and “find and delete negative comments attacking the system.”
Indeed, when the Guardian tried to post a comment on Weibo on a story about Lu, they received a response that read: “Sorry, the content has breached relevant laws and regulations. It cannot be published.”
It appears that the Chinese government is worried about what internet users will have to say about the country’s former chief internet regulator and the trends that he set in motion. During his time as head of the CAC, Lu oversaw an unprecedented crackdown on social media in China, curtailing online discussion with increased censorship and real-name registration.
A strong proponent of so-called “internet sovereignty,” Lu went so far as to deny the existence of internet censorship in China at the Wuzhen Internet Conference in 2015, arguing: “It is a misuse of words if you say ‘content censorship.’ But no censorship does not mean there is no management. The Chinese government learned how to manage the internet from developed Western countries, we have not learned enough yet.”
In 2015, China ranked dead last on Freedom House’s internet freedom survey. A spot that it also managed to hold on to in 2016.
Meanwhile, the CAC has been quick to denounce its former head, holding a meeting yesterday in which officials branded Lu as a “typical two-faced person” who had “seriously polluted” the administration’s political environment for years.
“Lu Wei cannot represent CAC’s image. He precisely undermined CAC’s image,” reads a statement from the regulator translated by Reuters which also adds that the adminstration will “draw profound lessons” from Lu’s misconduct and “thoroughly purge Lu’s evil influence.”
And now, we await to hear from Mark Zuckerberg.
I wonder whether Facebook etc. will join the Chinese government and Communist Party departments that now revile Lu Wei, swearing they always knew he was bad news, vowing to stamp out his malign influence, expunging his name and image from their websites, etc etc. pic.twitter.com/W5QobuUWO4
— Chris Buckley 储百亮 (@ChuBailiang) November 22, 2017