Bloomberg reports the latest development in Beijing’s battle against the “cancer” of online rumors, the launch of a new rumor-busting website by companies including Baidu, Sina, Sohu, and Netease:
The site refutes rumors collected from Twitter-like microblog services, news portals and other websites. One entry detailed the rumor a woman in the city of Qingdao was sent a kangaroo when she bought milk powder online from Australia. Qingdao police and customs officials were cited saying they’d never received reports of such an incident, according to the entry. Other rumors refuted include those of misconduct by government officials.
Social media sites including Sina Weibo have become the main platforms used by Chinese citizens to expose corruption and wrongdoing in a country where all newspapers, television and radio stations are state-owned. A vice chairman of China’s economic planning agency was fired in May after a Chinese journalist posted allegations of improper business dealings on his microblog.
“China is unique in that social media has become such an important venue for news,” said Doug Young, author of the book “The Party Line: How the Media Dictates Public Opinion in Modern China.” The rumor refuting website is the government’s attempt to have a voice in the information flow that can result in serious damage to reputations, he said. [Source]
Shanghai Daily spoke with Chen Hua, director of the official body supervising the project, who explained how the system works to “raise awareness in distinguishing rumors from the truth” by calling upon all netizens to report suspect information:
The first phase of the platform has already been completed, said Chen.
It has collected 100,000 statements on online rumors and phishing websites and offers some 30 websites where these can be reported.
The second phase should be ready in a year and offer more entertaining and interactive programs to encourage the public to report online rumors.
Some Internet users create rumors to attract attention, while others do it to let off steam, said Min Dahong, a researcher on Internet usage.
But rumors fabricated on purpose can be dangerous and incite panic, added Min.
Research has shown that rumors travel especially fast in times of emergency — such as natural disasters. [Source]
But as Global Voices Advocacy explains, defining rumors is a nebulous process:
The definition of “rumors” is very ambiguous in China. Any piece of news or information that has not been released by official government channels can be considered a rumor. For example, the outbreak of SARS was first appeared as a rumor in November 2002. In cases when the government wants to suppress the news, all discussions are labelled as rumors. When Chongqing Public Security Bureau head Wang Lijun took refuge in the US Consulate,information on his whereabouts had circulated online for over a week as “rumor” before the Chinese government confirmed the information. [Source]