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Social Media Pushes Boundaries in China; Inspires Change

Traditional media has, on many occasions, served as a “checks and balances” system for those in power. Social media has taken it one step further—erasing the middle man by allowing individuals to directly challenge those in charge.

Saturday’s fatal crash of China’s first generation bullet train highlights an important functional aspect of social media: Is it impossible to silence?

The crash killed nearly 39 people when one train derailed and collided with another which was stalled near the city of Wenzhou. Officials initially said lighting cut power supplies affecting monitoring systems. However, rail officials concluded that signaling issues may have been the cause.

Chinese authorities published a set of guidelines for the press on a website called “Ministry of Truth” which often posts copies of government directives; the posts included:

  • “The major theme for the Wenzhou bullet train case from now on will be known as ‘in the face of great tragedy, there’s great love,’” states the orders.
  • “Do not question, do not elaborate.”

However, the crash is being labeled as a “public-relations disaster” for the government as efforts to quiet and control the media have been unsuccessful—including alleged attempts to pay-off families of victims while burying parts of the wreckage, according to various news reports.

The Chinese people have taken to social media platforms to vent their frustration, questions and demands of their government—a notion that is proving a major change in the landscape of Chinese media.

While many micro-blogging communities in China have made bold statements about the government’s alleged dishonesty, journalists seem to be slowly following suit.

Traditional media, previously monitored closely by the government, is catching up with its worldwide counterparts.

China is seeing “more publications and journalists who are interested in pushing the boundaries,” says David Bandurski, editor of the China Media Project website via USAtoday.com.

“This is one of the biggest ever venting of anger and doubt, through social media, in China.”

While there are still large parts of this evolving story to unfold, one thing is certain – many in China have an opinion and are expressing themselves through various social media distribution points, without the “middle man.”

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