Authorities in China have opened up a battle against coarse language online.
The head of China’s cyberspace administration highlighted 25 different examples of bad language at a symposium in Beijing this week. Sina, Tencent and other internet companies were in attendance, and were told that the government wants to battle online language pollution, write Steve Mollman and Richard Macauley for Quartz.
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Language to be controlled by China’s authorities
Censorship of the internet has been practiced in China for decades. Authorities have a long track record for discreetly blocking or arresting citizens who use the internet to air their grievances against the government.
The attempts to control information on the internet have recently become more public, with the opening of social media accounts by Chinese “internet police,” who have even been asking for followers.
Now the authorities are not only trying to dampen dissent, but crack down on bad language as well. Lu Wei, head of China’s internet arbiter, revealed a list of the 25 most widely used “vulgar terms” on Chinese social network Sina Weibo. The list was produced as the result of a study by the People’s Daily.
Protection from vulgarity or political agenda?
To those who do not speak Mandarin, some of the words do not appear to be vulgar at all. The word jiaoshou actually means “professor,” but it has also come to mean “howling monster,” a common way of referring to experts who offend internet users.
Another term, nima, is a homonym for “your mom,” as well as an abbreviation of a popular three word insult about other people’s mothers. English speakers will also be familiar with the idea of “egg ache,” where “egg” refers to testicles.
Sina hinted that it may filter for the offensive words, and automatically remove posts that contain them from the Weibo microblogging platform. As well as protecting the purity of language online, it is also suspected that there may be a political motive behind the move.
A pun involving the “your mum” insult sounds very similar to “grass mud horse” in Mandarin, an imaginary animal which has become a symbol for internet freedom. The Chinese authorities may be attempting to crack down on coded conversations about internet freedom.