Two Arrested in Crackdown on Online Rumors

Police in Changsha have detained two men suspected of online rumor-mongering, part of a nationwide push to implement recently-passed measures designed to aid a more forceful approach to information control on the web. From Xinhua News:

The pair, arrested in the city of Changsha Sunday, were accused of spreading a rumor that 5,000 policemen and 100 police vehicles were seen guarding a wedding convoy in the city on Dec. 6, police investigators said.

The two men, both in their twenties, posted a video clip online showing crowds of police officers and a wedding convoy on the street. Police investigators said the incident was a coincidence, as the officers were returning from a training drill and happened to be passing the convoy at that particular moment.

Local police officials said the rumor spread quickly, with the video clip receiving large numbers of hits. The two men will be detained for a total of five days in accordance with relevant laws, the officials said.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal noted a “state-media anti-Internet rumor blitz” as the latest development in Beijing’s battle for control of the Internet, a campaign which includes editorials comparing the dangers of the web to drugs, prostitution and gambling:

“Internet rumors are highly destructive and harmful,” said a piece that was published on Nov. 28 on the People’s Daily website. “It is widely acknowledged that drugs could make people addicted, anaesthetize their nerves, and mess up their physical functions, which will further destroy family units, disturb society as a whole and trigger crime.”

“Doesn’t this mean that Internet rumors are a type of malignant tumor which harms the Internet’s image while eroding social values?” it said, adding that the government would take a “zero tolerance” attitude toward rumors.

Xinhua Online ran the first in a series of commentaries on the subject on the same day, saying Internet rumors are “highly poisonous” – worse, even, than heroin and cocaine. They are “just like beautiful poppy flowers, which are always under pretty disguise, and make people deeply poisoned.”

In addition to cracking down on rumors, the Chinese government has also targeted pornography and vulgarity as it seeks ways to rein in the influence and freedoms of microblogging platforms such as Sina Weibo. Last week, the State Information Office reported that 206 more microblog accounts were shutdown for distributing crude content. The latest campaign also has sought to reform the registration requirements on microblogs – Last week, China Daily reported that Sina Weibo has set up a system to verify the identities of its users:

Micro-bloggers can now go to the site and voluntarily submit their names, ID numbers and their cell phone numbers. Sina Weibo will then have public security departments check that information for accuracy, Mao Taotao, a public relations manager at Sina, said on Friday.

He said micro-bloggers whose ID numbers jibe with police records will receive an “honor medal”, which will be displayed under their user names on the website.

“We are encouraging micro-bloggers to apply for the real-name system, but we don’t expect all users to do that,” he said.