How Did False Information Circulated Online Become National News?

In China, the phrase “white collar” brings to mind a comfortable life and social status, while the country’s rapid development and urbanization process has created many regional, social and economic inequalities. That’s why the most recent hot news item in China was headlined “Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) Published the Standard Salary Level of a White Collar Worker in Main Cities.” According to today’s Liberation Daily, the official Party newspaper of Shanghai, more than 2,190,000 search results appeared for this story on Chinese search engine Baidu. (CDT just checked this search again and Baidu has already blocked most of these pages from the search results. But by varying the search a little, one can find at least tens of thousands of pages still containing this information.) Several hundred websites made special topic pages for this “investigative report.”

But CASS has now officially denied it ever published this “report.”

So how did this happen? Here is a timeline, from Harbin Daily, about how this false information became a major news story in China this week:

* Oct. 11, 2005 – A post appeared online titled “How high a salary is needed in other cities to have a living standard equivalent to a monthly salary of 5000 yuan in Beijing?”. The post had no mention of “White-Collar workers”.

* In 2006-2007, the above post was widely circulated among online forums and blogs.

* Jan. 2007 – This post was reposted with the title “CASS published the standard salary level of a worker in the main cities” in an online forum

* Nov. 2, 2007 – published a special page, which included this report attributed to CASS, entitled “Is your salary enough be called “white-collar“? posted this story right behind another story published by “Beijing Morning News (Âåó‰∫¨Êô®Êä•)”, which was also about white collar workers, but did not mention the alleged CASS report.

* Nov. 3, 2007 – “Peninsula Metropolis Daily”„ÄäÂçäÂ≤õÈÉΩÂ∏ÇÊä•„Äãpublished the data from the alleged CASS report, saying that it came from a report in “Beijing Morning News”. This story was quickly reposted by many news websites.

* Nov. 4 – 5, 2007 – This Peninsula Metropolis Daily story was republished and commented on by almost all major national and local news media and websites. Questions were immediately raised by many media and websites since the data seems very sketchy and does not fit with the local situation.

* Nov. 6, 2007 – After several media questioned the authenticity of the data and interviewed CASS, it became clear that this “salary standards of white-collar workers” report was not published by CASS.


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