In August, authorities in China launched a crackdown on online rumors. Bloomberg now reports that the government has again issued a stern warning against spreading false information to China’s Internet users, who now number more than 500 million. From the Bloomberg report:
Users in China must “abide by the law, show self- discipline and refrain from spreading rumors,” the spokesman for the State Council’s State Internet Information Office said, according to Xinhua.
He criticized a so-called prostitute diary on Sina Corp.’s Weibo microblog that was allegedly written by a 31-year-old man, who made up stories about working as a 22-year-old prostitute in Hangzhou, a city in eastern China’s Zhejiang province, Xinhua said. It attracted more than 250,000 users, Xinhua said.
China’s leaders are grappling with how to manage Twitter- like online microblogs that spread information difficult for government censors to control. Several members of the ruling Communist Party’s Politburo have visited Internet companies in recent weeks in the wake of a deadly train crash in July. Online commentators criticized the government’s handling of the case and spread commentary and photos of the accident at odds with the official government line.
Xinhua, citing the spokesman, said local authorities and websites should hold people who “spread rumors” accountable and “penalize them according to the law.”
The following article was published by Xinhua in August when the action against online rumor-mongering was announced. Translated for CDT by Megan Shank:
To eradicate the cancer of online lies, the crackdown on rumor-mongering must be strengthened
Never has there been a channel to hold so much information. Never has there been a platform that can hold so much public opinion, but the Internet has done it. In China, in a little more than 10 years, the Internet has developed rapidly, and Chinese netizens have become the largest national presence online. But powerful currents create much silt—the transmission of lies online. To build a healthy internet, we must completely eradicate the soil in which rumors grow.
The innovation of Internet technology has allowed for new speed and scope of information broadcasting in a nimble platform. But lately, stronger and stronger rumors have brought an influence and danger difficult to ignore. At the beginning of this year, a rumor about salt shortages spread on the Internet. A nationwide panic broke out as consumers rushed to the store to seize salt. In the end, despite lacking evidence, many citizens paid high prices for salt. As these kind of rumors ferment and spread, they threaten the credibility of the Internet and seriously interfere with social order.
Rumors have always been a social ill. And the Internet’s spread of rumors has brought huge danger to society. As everyone knows, facing so much information online, most netizens don’t have the energy to verify the source and truthfulness of information. This gives those who spread rumors online an exploitable opportunity. And along with instant-messaging tools like blogs, Weibo and other applications, sensational information explodes, which is of great convenience to rumor-mongers.
Rumor-mongers do not have pure motives. Perhaps they do it for economic reasons; or maybe they have some sort of societal motivation. But no matter what the motive, they sacrifice the interests of the people their own selfish desire. On one hand, there’s an audience preference for bad news—“it travels fast”—and rumors are always one-sided. Extreme language elicits attention and creates social discourse lacking in reason. On the other hand, exposing rumors requires copious amounts of social resources, and even after exposing a rumor, it’s easy for netizens to feel haunted by it. After that, Internet credibility is damned. From netizens to network operators and managers, everyone detests online rumors and hopes the government departments will strictly punish those who create them.
In order to restrict rumors online, we must promote a civilized Internet atmosphere and form an atmosphere where everyone is self-disciplined. First, as netizens, it’s of the utmost importance to respect Internet law and policy, to use the Internet in a civilized way, to not post or transmit rumors, and to be responsible for oneself. Secondly, to preserve a reasonable Internet attitude, netizens must distinguish that news with unclear origins and that specious or sensational news and not give it the merit of good faith nor help rumor-mongers spread it. Netizens must be responsible for others. Additionally, Internet enterprises should make even greater efforts to strictly master information dissemination management and cherish the development of their own credibility and professional integrity. They should not allow themselves to be used by rumor-mongers
The Internet is an important carrier of society’s civilization and progress. But rumors are a cancer that threatens the Internet and society. Working together for a healthy Internet requires netizens, Internet enterprise and all of society’s broad participation. And eradicating the fertile soil where rumors take root and multiply will require strengthened web management efforts and a stronger crackdown. According to laws and regulations and led by the public security bureau department, those who use the Internet as a place to spread lies and threaten society should be investigated and prosecuted. According to the facts about their rumor-mongering, the harm caused to society and their criminal motives, as well as other objective elements, they must pay the deserved price for their crimes. (Zhou Jijian)