Micro-bloggers essential in trackling abuses of power, experts suggest. The online clout of people has become a vital weapon in fighting abuses of power and ensuring greater transparency, government insiders and experts said.
With more than 300 million bloggers, micro-bloggers and forum users sharing information every minute, officials now face a greater level of scrutiny than ever before.
Facing the spotlight are Yang Dacai, a work safety official under fire for his taste in expensive watches, and Fang Daguo, a political commissar who is alleged to have attacked a flight attendant.
Micro blogs provide a "much-needed channel for the public to engage in supervision", said Liu Huawen, an associate researcher in international law at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
A senior Party discipline official in Zhongshan, Guangdong province, also said that online platforms had increased pressure on departments to perform.
"Supervising (government power) and combating corruption on the Internet is a trend in our society\’s development," said the official, who declined to give his name.
The power of these Internet channels means people expect more from the way we discipline authorities, the official said.
The Zhongshan discipline commission is one of 50,000 government agencies with an account on Sina Weibo. Since the account was opened in December 2010, it has posted information 1,300 times and gained 40,000 followers.
According to the official, the commission uses the micro blog to inform, educate, investigate, supervise and serve. But netizens focus mostly on supervising, investigation and whistle-blowing through micro blogs, the official said.
"It’s not a one-on-one communication, everyone can follow the development. The communication is effective and it involves so many people.’’
Yang Dacai, director of work safety for Shaanxi province, first came to the attention of netizens when he was pictured smiling at the scene of a fatal traffic accident on Aug 26.
Since then, images of him wearing a selection of 11 expensive watches, customized glasses and bracelets have emerged.
Micro-bloggers identified the watch brands, models and prices.
Under increasing pressure, the 55-year-old became a micro-blogger himself on Aug 29 to apologize and said he had bought five watches in 10 years, almost exactly as netizens suggested.
However, micro-bloggers then found pictures of him with at least another six watches the next day.
Liu Yanfeng, a college student in Hubei province, said she had written to the Shaanxi finance department on Sept 1 demanding it revealed Yang’s assets.
The disciplinary authority said they had launched an investigation.
Despite Yang explaining on Sept 3 that his family were well-off, micro-bloggers continued to feed information to the authorities.
On Wednesday they identified Yang’s designer glasses.
They were made by Lotos, a German company that produces spectacles by hand. Each pair sells for more than 100,000 yuan ($15,800).
Yang’s office said on Thursday he was not available for interview.
"I appreciate netizens’ attention and criticism ⋯ I’ll find more opportunities to communicate with you in the future," said his most recent post on Aug 29. Li Jingsong, a well-known lawyer, said micro blogs allow the public to get their views across quickly and information can be provided from different places and at different times.
"The interaction is unprecedented. People can tip off authorities online. It’s more powerful than one or two individuals calling." Fang Daguo, 41, the political commissar for the Yuexiu district armed forces department in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, has had first-hand experience of this.
A flight attendant posted pictures of her bruised and scratched arms on Aug 29 and accused Fang of beating her for not finding a place to stow his luggage.
Micro blog users became even more incensed after the flight attendant updated the blog on Aug 31 saying that she had reached a private settlement with Fang.
That single entry was forwarded 45,000 times and commented on 64,000 times.
The online feeling was she had been silenced and had backed down due to pressure from the authorities.
Guangdong disciplinary authorities have launched a probe. "I never expected the incident to get so much attention. I am thankful for your care and help," the flight attendant wrote on her micro blog.