Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Virtual is not a world apart

By Wang Xingya (China Daily) Updated: 2013-09-24 07:15

Policymakers also need to put the interests of people first and steadfastly work on their behalf in the 'network society'

The development of the Internet has exerted substantial influence on Chinese society. A "network society" has emerged, a society that is virtual in form but which reflects the non-virtual social reality.

Virtual is not a world apart

Wang Qishan (c), head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) of the Communist Party of China, inspects the operation of the official website jointly launched by the CCDI and the Ministry of Supervision in Beijing, capital of China, Sept 2, 2013. [Photo/Xinhua] 

There is a huge number of people active in cyberspace - according to the China Internet Network Information Center, the number of Internet users in China reached 590 million in June - and they have formed online communities that are complex in composition. The widespread use of the Internet has made the expression of public opinions more open, honest and immediate, but also uncertain. This requires policymakers to maintain close ties with the network society, and the fundamental way to achieve this is to extend the "mass line" campaign to cyberspace.

The mass line, vigorously advocated by China's top leadership, refers to the guideline under which Party officials and Party members are required to put the interests of the people first and steadfastly represent people and work on their behalf, with the aim of boosting the ties between the Party and the people and curbing corruption.

Promotion of the mass line online will enhance the Party's ties with the network society. With the help of the Internet, the governing body can efficiently solicit public opinions and better engage people in the policymaking process. Also with the help of the Internet, the Party and the government can deliver messages in a timely and effective manner and quash any false information circulated online.

Equally important, the network society, with its supervisory function brought fully into play, can help clean up the harmful work styles of officials - formalism, bureaucracy, hedonism and extravagance - and form part of a high-quality, efficient system of supervision of the government.

To promote the mass line in cyberspace, the Party and the government need to change their approach to the Internet. Above all, it is essential to overcome the indifference to and the bias against netizens and to listen to them in a truly respectful manner and serve them as public servants. It is important to remain modest and receptive and to learn from netizens, to engage in dialogue with them in a democratic way and get the most out of their wisdom and strength, and to neutralize the drawbacks of the network society including the spread of rumors and false information. It is also important to strengthen the ability to manage the network society and develop new approaches to online mass work.

Indeed, it is imperative to constantly renew the mass line online. The virtual public and the public in real life are basically the same group of people, so the principles upheld in conventional mass work can be applied to the network society as well. In the network society the release of information can be timely, but also sometimes deflected from the designated track. This makes the virtual society different from the real society and demands that extra efforts be made to conduct the mass line online, so as to maximize the influence of the mass line campaign in the network society.

To promote the mass line campaign in the network society, the Party and the government should draw from netizens' wit and wisdom to make their policymaking process more democratic and scientific.

To be specific, it is necessary to conduct extensive surveys based on online platforms to collect public views for decision-making and facilitate online communication with the general public to seek advice from them. Blogs, micro blogs and other online platforms should be used to deliver messages from the Party and the government. There should also be channels for people's appeals and online hearings, so that the public can voice their appeals directly.

In recent years, netizens have actively participated in social supervision and succeeded in exposing a series of scandals and directing public attention to some social issues. Despite its shortcomings, the network society, with its supervisory function that works around the clock, has played an irreplaceable role in monitoring the use of power and combating corruption.

To promote the mass line campaign in the network society requires respecting the right of netizens to supervise the government, so that the network society can play its full role in regulating the government's actions and the behavior of officials, and play its part in constructing a clean government. Arduous efforts have to be made to assure netizens of their right to supervise, and these include accelerating the building of online platforms for the public to express and share their views and to widen channels for public tip-offs about corruption and other misconduct.

Last but not least, the promotion of the mass line campaign in the network society calls for efforts to improve services for netizens. For this purpose, the foremost task is to speed up the setting up and bettering of government websites. Some follow-up studies show that in recent years, government websites and their corresponding social media platforms are barely tolerable in terms of public influence, and many have a click-through rate of only 30 to 40 percent. The main problem of these platforms lies in their lack of useful information, delayed updating or no updating, and or no opportunity for interaction or response from visitors. This has undermined the creditability and influence of the government at various levels.

To improve government websites and their social media platforms, it is necessary to step up maintenance efforts, enrich these platforms with interactive substance and turn them into the medium where the e-government can disclose content and enable feedback from people, and gradually realize a one-stop service for the general public.

The author is an official with the general office of Jiangsu provincial Party committee. The Chinese version of this article appeared in Study Times.

(China Daily 09/24/2013 page8)

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