China has enforced a new law which effectively only lets people post "positive" content to the internet, amid dissent over the coronavirus outbreak.

The Provisions on the Governance of the Online Information Content Ecosystem, which was announced December 15, came into effect on Sunday .

The laws are designed to "create a positive online ecosystem ... to preserve national security and the public interest," the government document said.

Xi Jinping
Xi Jinping
Xinhua via REUTERS

The law splits online content into three groups: "encouraged," "negative," and "illegal," according to an unofficial translation by Jeremy Daum, who runs the China Law Translate project.

Though the new law contains conditions borrowed from existing national-security laws, it also contains new conditions that are "distressingly vague and easily abused," Daum said.

According to the new law:

  • "Illegal" content includes the "dissemination of rumors," "disrupting economic or social order," "subverting the national regime," and "destroying national unity."
  • "Negative" content includes "sensationalizing headlines" and any "other content with a negative impact to the online information ecosystem."
  • "Encouraged" content includes "spreading and explaining Party doctrine," "spreading economic and social achievement" and "other positive and wholesome content."

It also bans people from spreading rumors and "insulting, threatening, and doxxing people," according to Abacus News , a tech website run by the South China Morning Post.

Chinese citizens criticized the new law on social media, and a hashtag relating to the law was viewed more than three million times on Monday alone, The Guardian reported .

"In the future there will be only good news, and no bad news," one person said, according to the newspaper.

"They only want us to see what they want us to see, and hear what they want us to hear. This is basically the internet version of social policing," said another.

china surveillance facial recognition
china surveillance facial recognition
Thomas Peter/Reuters

China's government and tech companies have long been known to distort data and enforce strict censorship on what its citizens can see, and the new law comes as China scrambles to suppress criticism amid a national emergency over the coronavirus outbreak.

Criticism about the Chinese government is rare to see on social media, as critical posts are often quickly removed and banned, and the people behind them censured.

At least five prominent medical experts or journalists including whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang have been disappeared, arrested, or silenced after speaking out about the outbreak.

Li died of the coronavirus , and Chinese citizens marked his death by calling for an end to censorship with three viral hashtags: "The Wuhan government owes Li Wenliang an apology," "I want freedom of speech," and "We want freedom of speech." All these messages were eventually censored from social media sites like Weibo.

Reuters China correspondent Cate Cadell tweeted that several people she had spoken with reported being tracked by Chinese authorities for posting information about sick relatives or friends on social media.

Doctors treating patients with COVID 19 in Wuhan, China
Doctors treating patients with COVID 19 in Wuhan, China
STR/AFP via Getty Images

Over the course of one week in January there were 250 cases of people being punished for posting critical content about China's coronavirus response, the US-based advocacy group Chinese Human Rights Defenders reported.

In February, a number of Virtual Private Network (VPN) operators also said that China was attempting to disrupt their access in the country, according to the Financial Times . Using a VPN in China allows people to access websites that are blocked by the government, like Facebook and Twitter.

China's internet censorship also extends beyond government criticism. Authorities have in recent weeks also banned some feminist and LGBT content online, The Guardian said.

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