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How Much Can an App Help Promote Social Governance?
The 'Chaoyang Masses' app is released for the public to report suspected crimes
 NO. 10 MARCH 9, 2017

(LI SHIGONG)

The residents in Beijing's Chaoyang District have a special title: "the Chaoyang masses." This title has only come up in recent years, after the residents became renowned for tipping off police about a number of cases involving high-profile celebrities using drugs and having sex with prostitutes. They also have helped to crack down on illegal construction and unlicensed taxis, among other things. To acknowledge their contributions, they have received awards from the police. They have even earned themselves an amusing nickname: the "fifth largest intelligence agency" in the world, after the Central Intelligence Agency in the United States, the Committee of State Security in the Soviet Union, Mossad in Israel, and Military Intelligence 6 in the UK.

However, rather than being supermen, the Chaoyang masses are mostly ordinary people such as security men in shopping malls and communities, volunteers and retired people. Recently, a new smartphone app named "Chaoyang Masses" has attracted much attention. The police in Beijing's Chaoyang District have confirmed the app is not a trick, but has been released for local "sleuths" to report suspected criminal behavior and is now in the testing phase. With this app, users can report to the police information about suspected child trafficking, criminal suspects, lost people, traffic rule violations, lost property etc., by uploading videos, pictures and texts.

The police say they hope this app will serve as a platform for effective cooperation between the police and the public by mobilizing the city's residents to participate in urban security governance.

Some applaud the app as a new model for collaboration between the public and the police. As the Chaoyang masses are quite well known in Beijing and even in the whole country, this app is expected to be widely used and to play a big role in locating suspected criminals. Meanwhile, some others don't think the app can prevail, arguing that the public do not actually have so many ways to collect information, and thus even with this app, they still have not much tangible information to report.

Broadening tip-off channels

Xiang Qiu (www.cnhubei.com): The app comes at a time when smartphone and Internet services are highly developed and widespread. It has brought a new way of calling the police, adding to the old channels of phones or showing up in the police station. With the old methods, the accuracy and efficiency might be affected when informers speak with regional accents. The new app is able to remove this problem. Informers can upload videos, pictures and texts, which may help police undertake criminal investigations. Meanwhile, it also makes the act of informing the police much easier. Its convenience and efficiency will surely make the app welcome by more and more people, not only the Chaoyang masses.

Jiang Debin (Xiandai Jinbao): First of all, to make use of a cell phone app to strengthen cooperation between the masses and the police is a great attempt to promote social safety networks and improve the relationship between the public and the police. As smartphones are widely used nowadays, using a cell phone app to inform the police will prove to be very efficient. Actually, not only in Beijing, but in many other places, similar apps have long been used. For example, in east China's Zhejiang Province, local traffic police have promoted an app as a platform for issuing information and reporting suspected cases.

However, it's important to well manage the Chaoyang Masses app by upgrading relevant information in a timely manner and by responding swiftly to the public's reports. This should never be an image project. It's reported that the news on the app remained outdated for several months, and we hope this will change when the app comes into formal operation.

Tang Huazhen (Beijing Daily): Social governance is a complex issue. Beijing, as the capital city, boasts a special economic status, which demands a higher level of security than other cities. Besides, it has a large population base plus a big migrant population. Thus the government's social governance forces alone seem insufficient to cope with such a huge task. The involvement of the masses' wisdom and efforts will help make the work more effective and society safer.

In the Internet era, the cyber world is sometimes intricately intertwined with the real world. Factors detrimental to social security may appear on the Internet, while the Internet may also help to fight against dangerous situations in real life. The convenience brought by the Internet makes it possible for the police to mobilize the public to safeguard the peace and security of society. When the masses are involved, it's like a fishing net covering the whole of society, which can help to spot suspected cases anywhere, anytime.

Although the Chaoyang Masses app still has some deficiencies, on the whole, this is the right way forward. With more trials of new models, better urban governance methods will arise. More such apps mean a safer society.

Unhelpful

Xie Weifeng (www.rednet.cn): The fact that the news on the Chaoyang Masses app was not updated for several months makes some people worry about the efficiency and reliability of this app.

Their doubts are understandable, given the fact that the content on a few government department websites remains unchanged for months and even years. Although not all government departments do this, the public is disgusted by this kind of inaction. Updating and maintenance of such sites and apps should become daily and regular work.

We don't know the reason why the content was old on the Changyang Masses app—probably, there was not enough material to be made into attractive news, or the operator was waiting for more typical examples, ignoring currently happening news that was uninteresting. If the content is always old, the public will gradually lose interest in the app, and eventually, its function may be discounted.

Shu Shengxiang (www.jiaodong.net): The Chaoyang Masses app has been available since last August, but not many people have downloaded it, and users are reportedly not satisfied with the experience of using it. It became widespread only after police in Chaoyang District began to promote it beginning this February. Many people view it as a means to facilitate e-administration, but in fact, it is largely a commercial act.

The purpose of this app is to facilitate online tip-offs. However, this function alone is unable to boost the app, and ultimately, it also needs to provide news and information. The paradox is that if the public want to read local public security news and information, they only need to pay attention to the public WeChat account of the local police or other informative accounts. They don't need to download the Chaoyang Masses app. Even the online tip-off function is not unique; some public Weibo and WeChat accounts already offer this. The app has no substantial selling point.

Although the Chaoyang masses are said to be "the fifth largest intelligence agency," these people should be further classified. Most are ordinary people who don't have much access to important information. Even the experienced volunteers who are really interested in reporting suspicious clues can report only the criminal incidents they witness on the streets or in their neighborhoods. Those who tipped off the police about movie stars using drugs and paying for sex are obviously not ordinary members of the public. They either have received professional training or are police informers. Some of them are most likely pimps, drug addicts or gangsters who want to atone for their crimes by providing the police with information.

It's important to acknowledge that most of the information provided by ordinary people is useless. If the police treated every piece of reported information equally carefully, there would be no time left for them to deal with other issues. In actual fact, the police lack not information sources but key informers.

The Chaoyang Masses app depends on the public's curiosity for useful information. But for users, the most important thing about an app is its usefulness. It's interesting to peruse the app once in a while, but it's not attractive enough for me to use it every day.

Copyedited by Chris Surtees

Comments to yanwei@bjreview.com

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