China's Internet police step out of the shadows

China's Internet police step out of the shadows
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Chinese officials are bringing their Internet police division out into the public eye after years of clandestine work.

Xinhua, the state’s official news service, reported that Internet police units in 50 cities are launching their own social media accounts on popular services such as Weibo and WeChat.

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“Internet police are coming out to the front stage from behind the curtains,” said China’s Ministry of Public Security in a statement.

The ministry explained that these cyber police are working to find “illegal and harmful information on the Internet, deter and prevent cyber crimes and improper words and deeds online, publish case reports and handle public tip-offs.”

China strictly controls the flow of digital information within its borders, banning popular online services like Google and reportedly hacking companies like Apple and Microsoft to spy on dissidents.

Digital police units are expected to use these new social media accounts to promote their work and bond with the public.

Weibo is frequently described as some combination of Facebook and Twitter, which have both faced blockages in China. WeChat is a popular messaging app.

The Wall Street Journal noted some of the first outreach attempts on Monday included random advice (“air conditioning makes your feet cold”), advice on avoiding digital scams (“watch out for wedding invitations bearing viruses”) and thinly veiled threats (“don’t spread rumors online or we’ll pull you in for questioning”).

The accounts also include cartoons of “cutesy policemen and policewomen, happy children and wolf-like criminals grabbing young damsels,” The Journal said.

Reuters reported the Chinese government made the move in response to public concern about digital crimes such as online gambling and pornography.

“Just like in the real world, law violations in the cyberspace will not go unaccounted for,” the ministry said, adding that the cyber police have investigated and handled over 70,000 cyber crimes this year.

The online police have also been a key part of China’s strong digital censorship campaign, which has kicked into high gear over the last several years.

The ministry said its digital overseers had deleted roughly 758,000 pieces of "illegal and criminous information” in 2015.