If you are among those netizens who are fond of spreading or re-posting rumors across the social media and online, you better be sure you are not in China. That is because the Chinese government has recently implemented a stricter policy against spreading of ‘irresponsible rumors.’
This is not surprising as Beijing is currently trying to chase after those who are responsible for online rumors. Without directly stating, the government is trying to police the social media, where many of its citizens are now discussing various issues like politics, which interestingly persist despite a stricter censorship in the mainland.
According to Chinese legislation, a person could be charged with defamation if he created an online rumor that has spread like wildfire across the Internet. That posting containing the rumor must be viewed by at least 5,000 unique visitors or reposted in social networks for over 500 times to lead to appropriate lawsuit. The standard sentence in China for defamation is three years of imprisonment.
The policy against rumors also point out possible effects of those speculations when posted online. The government is particularly warning against rumors that ruin reputations or cause anxiety and stress to the subjects of those malicious stories. The same level of punishment is implemented to those who spread false information that eventually lead to religious or ethnic unrest and protest. The same goes for rumors that put China into bad light.
Stopping irresponsible rumors
As expected, this policy has gained mostly negative reaction from local netizens. Social media users have expressed their sentiments though the Chinese micro blogging site Sina Weibo. Some of them think this is another measure to control freedom of expression. In a statement, the Chinese government defended its move by saying that slander of others could not considered as freedom of speech.
Beijing seems determined to curtail the spread of what it refers to as ‘irresponsible rumors.’ The Chinese government said it wants to prevent ridiculous hearsays to spread like wildfire online. A recent example of such rumors is an urban legend that a type of soup being sold in Guangdong province is supposedly made from powdered dead fetuses.
However, some critics think that this measure could be among the strategies of President Xi Jinping to make a stronger grip on power. The state media have already reported numerous arrests and detentions in the past few weeks amid a crackdown on those who are spreading rumors online.