Is there any justification for claims by the Chinese Government that social media controls are needed to prevent incitment of riots?


In several countries, there's the practice of censoring foreign social media and other types of websites, presumably due to the possibility of the information on them would cause social instability inside the country.

In my country, China, the state promoted core values include "harmony". I think the officials deem it important is partly due to ideology, and partly because the actual cost (both in money and in personnel) of maintaining control in a dire situation.

I want to know, is this fear of foreign social media justified by any example? Is there a case of an out-of-control riot in a western democracy with a good human right record, and where participants are mostly non-immigrants, and where control of social media (leaving aside free-speech concerns) could have prevented it?


Posted 2017-07-31T11:55:47.527

Reputation: 177

1I just remembered a case of murder during the campaign for Brexit, where a woman pro-EU politician was gunned down. – DannyNiu – 2017-07-31T11:57:16.257

3There are multiple countries censoring social media or Internet sites in general because they deem them a threat to the state, is there a particular one whose reasoning you want to focus on? – IllusiveBrian – 2017-07-31T12:42:20.570

China is the country in question. I hope to understand if the goverment's over-regulation can be in justified, even slightly. – DannyNiu – 2017-07-31T13:33:58.843

Socialism tag is important, because we are focusing what the state is doing to and for the people and why. – DannyNiu – 2017-07-31T13:35:02.283

2On many criteria, China is only nominally socialist, at this point. At best, it's a blend. – user4012 – 2017-07-31T13:42:04.870

The important thing is, I'm looking for examples of such riot in a western democracy. – DannyNiu – 2017-07-31T13:48:15.307

2Why all the downvotes? If the question is looking for purposes behind a national censorship. That moves it enough outside opinions.. I think it's a good question and the person asking it is sincere. (Perhaps it was worse before editing), but as it stands, I think it's a good question. – userLTK – 2017-08-01T08:39:55.423

2The Chinese Communist Party are trying to control how you think, there is nothing more insidious. "harmony" is the destruction of contrarian thought. Free yourself Danny. The Ideas the state deems most "unharmonious" are the very ideas one should tread carefully towards and with an open mind. – easymoden00b – 2017-08-01T14:41:25.077

1@easymoden00b You know Europe has many policies like that right? Racist rhetoric is dictated by the state, holocaust denial as well. Free yourself easy – SCFi – 2017-08-01T14:58:00.783



Here is an example of riots that emerged after group of anti-immigrants used social media to assemble in the city center in Leipzig.

The protests erupted after the Cologne attacks by immigrants on women leaked to the mainstream through social media. At the beginning German government tried to cover up the Cologne incident. The police reported in an official statement that the night of the attack went peacefully with no incidents. Only after people started reporting the incidents through social media the authorities admitted that the attacks happened.

Merkel is actively working to limit any anti immigration protests as they will not be given permission to assemble. They instead used social media to coordinate protests, something German authority want to avoid by controlling the internet.

One could only speculate that the censorship is linked with German government inability to keep possible incidents similar to what happened in cologne under control.

Another would be isolating people that want to protest Merkel policy on immigration.


Posted 2017-07-31T11:55:47.527


1‘At the beginning German government tried to cover up the Cologne incident.’ [citation needed]. ‘Merkel is actively working to limit any anti immigration protests’ [citation needed]. ‘as they will not be given permission to assemble.’ [citation needed]. ‘something German authority want to avoid by controlling the internet.’ [citation needed]. ‘One could only speculate that the censorship is linked with German government inability to keep possible incidents similar to what happened in cologne under control.’ [citation needed]. – Jan – 2019-10-17T15:50:00.043

1‘Another would be isolating people that want to protest Merkel policy on immigration.’ [citation really needed]. – Jan – 2019-10-17T15:50:13.037

3Dare to delete Philipp? Social media used to call out german government lies and organize the protests? Can you handle this? You germany as negative example? – None – 2017-08-01T12:58:39.403

3No, I am not deleting this, because it is actually an answer. Not a good answer, and one which puts quite a lot of blame on Merkel which would actually be deserved by Heiko Maas and on the various federal state ministers of interior, but an answer nevertheless. – Philipp – 2017-08-01T13:03:54.827

I always wonder what the difference is between Germans, Brits, and swedes as the same thing is happening in these countries however Swedes want even more refugees and Brits voted to leave the EU but no real protest I can find. I suppose that's a question on it's own – SCFi – 2017-08-01T13:29:13.130

@SCFi Make sure to mind the distinction between the actions of Sweden's government and the opinions of Swedish people in general. In poll after poll, a significant fraction (though I don't recall the exact numbers off the top of my head) of the Swedish population do not "want even more refugees". – user – 2017-08-03T09:20:08.763


Off the top of my head, I’m not aware of any riots or protests that directly led to fatalities. Cases that result in fatalities usually did not originate as a large demonstration or riot and conversely most large-scale demonstrations/riots are often under just enough police control (e.g. separation from counter-protestors) to prevent fatalities from happening although injuries, throwing stones and similar occurances do happen more frequently.

Furthermore, the requirement of ‘caused by social media’ is difficult to prove. At best, the organisation of a demonstration (or subsequent riot) is facilitated by social media but as large scale demonstrations or riots are not a new observation (indeed, they date back to at least 1789 to allude to just one of the most prominent in history) so they certainly happened prior to Facebook/Twitter/messenger apps and the like.

If we relax the conditions a little bit, somewhat famously in Germany the (originally weekly) Pegida demonstrations began in 2014 with a closed Facebook group of the founder Lutz Bachmann. In a more recent example, the Chemitz protests, which led to a number of injuries, were also most likely co-organised via social media, likely on both sides. To give an example from the other side of the political spectrum: the far-left protests and riots during the G20 summit in Hamburg in all likelyhood had a social media component to their organisation. Again, no fatalities but over 2000 crimes committed according to the police reports.

It bears mentioning that at least part of the fear is supported by research: in 2018, Vosoughi, Roy and Aral analysed the spread of a number of news stories across Twitter between 2006 and 2017 and found that

Falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information, and [that] the effects were more pronounced for false political news than for false news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends, or financial information.

(Source: S. Vosoughi, D. Rob, S. Aral, Science 2018, 359, 1146–1151. DOI: 10.1126/science.aap9559.)

Their work considered practically every rumour that spread a type of ‘news’ (‘We also purposefully adopt a broad definition of the term news. Rather than defining what constitutes news on the basis of the institutional source of the assertions in a story, we refer to any asserted claim made on Twitter as news’) and they determined whether news was considered to be true or false by checking six independent fact-checking organisations which agreed on levels between 95 % and 98 %.

Thus, ‘false stories [which] inspired fear, disgust, and surprise in replies’ travel faster on Twitter and have a greater potential to spark protests.


Posted 2017-07-31T11:55:47.527

Reputation: 8 390


Is there a case of an out-of-control riot in a western democracy with a good human right record

Yes. There are plenty of riots you can point to (most of the examples i can think of are from radical left, but I would be willing to entertain the idea that it's possibly due to my own bias in information intake and not because radical left is more prone to violent riots). Specific to your question, ALL of the examples below were heavily facilitated by social media use.

I won't point out earlier riots in 60s and 70s since you asked about social media. I also didn't cover outside US, partly due to being more familiar with US politics and partly because this already shows more than enough examples to fit what you asked.


Posted 2017-07-31T11:55:47.527

Reputation: 84 347

I'm half expecting a "But US doesn't have a good human right record" to be an objection. Which is entirely dependent on one's subjective definition of what a "good" human right record is. But I think it's rather universally acknowledged that it's better than China's :) – user4012 – 2017-07-31T13:57:27.463

8I don't think this answers the question. You should add sources that state that social media - and specifically foreign social media - was primarily responsible for these (note also that the question is about fatal riots, which these were not). Just to take one example: The radical left in Germany was plenty capable of violent protests before social media; is there any reason to think that it played a relevant role this year? – tim – 2017-07-31T14:01:17.550

Comments are not for extended discussion; the conversation about free speech protection has been moved to chat.

– Philipp – 2017-08-01T08:11:39.570

1I have issues with defining all these episodes as "out-of-control" (and, as tim says, "fatal") – Federico – 2017-08-01T08:35:07.787

2@userLTK the asker wanted examples of western democracies that don't censor social media. China was a counter-example. – Communisty – 2017-08-01T12:00:31.990

2@userLTK - sorry, you mis-read the question. "Is there a case of an out-of-control riot in a western democracy with a good human right record, and where participants are mostly non-immigrants" – user4012 – 2017-08-01T12:48:01.777

3I think maybe you misread the question, as well, since the title specifies "fatal riot caused by social media." – PoloHoleSet – 2017-08-01T14:35:44.763

@PoloHoleSet - almost none riots in the West are fatal, social media or not, as far as I'm aware. – user4012 – 2017-08-01T14:38:31.920

1@user4012 LA Riots? – SCFi – 2017-08-01T14:38:59.387

1I actually already knew that, but since you included non-fatal, non-social-media ones in your answer, that was why I was stating that you probably also misread the question. But, hey, you got post your own political slant for those protests, so mission accomplished, I guess. – PoloHoleSet – 2017-08-01T14:41:32.457

@PoloHoleSet - every one I included was social media ones. – user4012 – 2017-08-01T14:45:59.270

@SCFi - that was pretty early, I'm not sure social media played a big role – user4012 – 2017-08-01T14:46:30.607

1Callling protests against Anne Coulter "anti free speech riots" is ludicrous and pure conservative partisanship. I don't think the students should have protested her as strongly as they did, but they weren't protesting free speech, they were protesting alternative facts. I still think there's lots wrong with this answer aside from that. The Ferguson Riots probably happen even if there was no internet. Organized riots happened pre-internet and even if social media helps organize them, that doesn't mean it caused them. (I think it caused some). – userLTK – 2017-08-01T18:32:58.410

2@userLTK: So the (mostly non) students wanted people to hear only their own alternative facts, and not Ann Coulter's alternative facts as well? Doesn't seem like free speech was the goal there :-( – jamesqf – 2017-08-01T19:06:22.133

@userLTK they were protesting her right to speak there in the first place. – user4012 – 2017-08-02T00:56:33.530

1@jamesqf Everyone wants to sell you their alternative facts. I didn't say I agreed with the protest. I just object to calling the protests anti free speech. Telling someone "if you try to speak I will protest", isn't anti free speech, it's speech. It's only when the government blocks a person's right to print or speak, that's where free speech is under fire. Protests are a form of speech. It's a low form of speech in many cases, but it's NOT anti free speech. We should discuss the low common denominator on both sides, not throw false tags around like "they are anti free speech". – userLTK – 2017-08-02T03:09:57.510

@userLTK - you're misrepresenting what happened. The "protest" didn't involve protesting the content of the speach, separate from the speach itself. It involved actions aimed at preventing the fact of speaking in the first place. Don't call it a "protest" when it was "preventing / shutdown" – user4012 – 2017-08-02T14:18:18.493

@user4012 I think we're going to get bumped to chat soon but you are just calling it what you want to call it. The protests were against Ann Coulter, not against free Speech. It's just convenient for those who like Ann Counter, to say it's an attack on Free Speech. When people try to shut down Pornography - those people aren't against free speech, they're against Pornography, but the Pornography's defense is that it's protected under Free Speech. I just drew a comparison between Ann Coulter and Pornography - and that's a terrible thing to say about Pornography. Call things what they are!!! – userLTK – 2017-08-02T16:02:36.070

@userLTK - one more time and slowly: they were NOT protesting the content of Ann Coulter's speech. they were protesting her right to speak in the public space (where she has full right to speak as per 1st amendment) in the first place. That's a free speech issue. – user4012 – 2017-08-02T16:46:08.117

@user4012 and one more time, slowly. No. You are not right. She has a right to sign a contract to speak, students have a right to protest, the university has a right to cancel her. They were protesting her. You can keep disagreeing, but yours is nothing more than a conservative/right wing argument and not a statement of truth. – userLTK – 2017-08-02T18:25:45.850

Let us continue this discussion in chat.

– userLTK – 2017-08-02T18:29:56.227