China Detains Three for Online Rumor-Mongering

Chinese authorities have punished three people for spreading rumors online, according to a statement issued by the State Internet Information Office on Tuesday, as it enforces recently-passed measures intended to rein in microblogs and control the flow of information on the web. From Xinhua News:

A Shanghai resident surnamed Li was held in local police custody for 15 days for posting a falsified personal income tax document from the State Administration of Taxation in August, and misleading the public, the statement said.

A university student in southwest China’s Yunnan Province was detained for posting a fake news item about a sick man who killed eight village heads in Yunnan, it said.

The editor of a leading gateway surnamed Pei received a warning from his employer for publishing a microblog entry about an air force fighter crash without confirming the source and facts, the statement said.

According to the statement, investigations found that three other popular online news items were not true, and the police are looking for those who were responsible.

The latest crackdowns highlight an increased government focus on containing the activities of China’s more than 500 million Internet users and, more specifically, monitoring content on microblogs such as Sina Weibo. The latest Sina Weibo White Paper, released jointly last week by Sina and Chinese social business intelligence provider CIC, indicates that the site’s registered users have eclipsed 250 million, a nearly 300% surge since the end of 2010 and an increase of approximately 50 million users since the site’s parent announced its quarterly results in June.

Last week’s meeting of the ruling Communist Party’s Central Committee yielded a communique indicating the government’s plans to supervise the online community. From Bloomberg:

The communique said the party will “strengthen guidance and management over social networks and instant messaging tools, regulate online information distribution, and cultivate a civilized, rational Internet environment.”

Documents from plenums are second only in importance to resolutions passed every five years by the Communist Party Congress, set to meet next year to pick a new generation of leaders, said Willy Wo-Lap Lam, an adjunct professor of Chinese history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

This resolution, which focuses on culture, gives the Communist Party a written record that can be used to justify its actions, Lam said in an e-mail.

“The CCP wants to be seen as a party that properly follows precedents, procedure and traditions,” Lam said. “So every time they detain a dissident or whack a website, they can quote from this Culture Resolution.”

See also CDT coverage of the Chinese government’s growing agitation with online rumorsprevious crackdowns in August, and the anticipation of more restrictive policies going forward.