China cracks down on online rumors


A woman works online in her cubicle at an office in Beijing. China's homegrown social media sites like Sina Weibo are booming thanks to their better knowledge of the world's largest Internet market, and the censorship stifling foreign rivals like Facebook, Twitter, and Google-owned YouTube.



The Chinese government has decided to crack down even further on online free speech, introducing prison sentences of up to three years for users who write defamatory messages. 

The authors of posts deemed defamatory can be targeted if their work is viewed over 5,000 times, or if their posts are reposted over 500 times. Users should think twice about making posts that could be perceived as promoting extortion, blackmail, and even online arguments. 

Read more from GlobalPost: China Internet users top 500 million 

According to AFP, posts may also be deemed defamatory if they encourage "suicide or self-mutilation... of the parties involved" — likely aimed at self-immolators among the Tibetan population. 

The regulations are the latest in China's long-standing battle against uncontrolled speech on the Internet, increasingly challenged by the massive popularity of micro-blogging sites such as Weibo among the nation's 500 million-plus Internet users. 

Hundreds in China have been taken into custody in China over spreading online rumors already. 

 "The criminal code should be a hanging sword that should not fall easily. Now it can fall at any time," said Fudan University law professor Xie Youping to the Associated Press of the new rules. "This sets the standards for criminal prosecution at the lowest since the new China was founded (in 1949)," he added. 

Pro-government Chinese publications, meanwhile, wrote about the new regulations as a much-needed effort to stamp out crimes of defamation and blackmail, which have caused "social harm." 

"The new rules could serve as a warning to malicious Internet users that they should not break a legal "bottom line" when posting online," wrote Xinhua of the new rules, citing cases where false information is responsible for disrupting "social order and triggering unrest."

The Global Times took an even harder line, claiming that "Online rumors are like a cancer threatening the normal functioning of society."

"Most Internet users will not feel worried by the interpretations. Those who suddenly feel "not free" are only a minority," the Global Times added.