After Chinese cyberspace revealed the story of Yang Shukuan, a mafia head in Tangshan and photos of his private armored vehicles and stretch limo, the Beijing-based Christian Science Monitor correspondent Peter Ford chased the story further and is puzzled by what he found. He interviewed me in his article, discussing the difficulties and challenges of judging online information. What he did not include in his story is that Yang Shukuan’s story has had new developments since last week. Although the original source “North Star” did not appear again in public to confirm his story, three days ago, the Ministry of Public Security held a press conference on Yang’s case. According to government news site Chinanews.com.cn, Mr. Wu Zhenrong, the spokesperson of Ministry of Public Security, not only confirmed Yang’s crime, but also acknowledged the role of media and the Internet in reflecting public opinion, which supported the Public Security agencies in their “striking black society” campaign. The full version of that Chinese report is here. The stories of Yang Shukuan’s case continue to be reported and commented on in Chinese media, just click here.
Here is Peter’s story in today’s Christian Science Monitor:
Sometimes you come across a story that sounds too good to be true. When that happens in China, where the authorities keep a tight grip on the media – and when the news first appears on the Internet, a hotbed of intentionally spread lies – I have learned to ask two questions right off the bat.
Is it really true? And regardless of how true it is, why are we hearing about it now? Those leaped to mind last week when I came across a story on the Web about a Chinese mafia boss with apparent connections to high-level Communist Party officials and a lifestyle Al Capone would have blushed at.
Trying to pin the story down, though, I found myself disappearing down an information rabbit hole, discovering how news can be used – and abused – for all sorts of purposes in China. I drew blanks at false addresses and with sources hiding behind false names, watched articles disappear from websites overnight, and realized that little was exactly as it seemed and practically nothing was verifiable. [Full Text]