A War on Rumor

Chinese authorities renew an attack against online 'rumors' and push for real-name registration on microblog accounts.
2012-04-09
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A man surfs the Web at an Internet cafe in Beijing, May 12, 2011.
AFP

China's official propaganda machine swung into action on Monday with a renewed attack on "rumor-mongering" online and a defense of real-name registration requirements for Internet users, amid ongoing speculation about political infighting at the heart of the ruling Communist Party.

The commentaries, which appeared in the Party mouthpiece, the People's Daily, the Shanghai Morning Post, Guangzhou's Southern Metropolis Daily and the Beijing Times, were sparked by an announcement at the weekend from the Internet Society of China, which called on the country's Internet companies to stem the spread of online rumors.

"The spread of online rumors has become a public nuisance which seriously infringes people's interests, national security and social stability," the society said in a proposal published on Sunday.

It called on Internet service providers to "resist online rumors" by imposing self-discipline, as well as upholding China's laws, without giving specific examples.

The Internet Society report said Internet companies should strengthen professional ethics among their staff and improve their ability to tell fact from rumor.

It also urged the companies to comply with government rules for real-name registration of China's 250 million microblog account holders, a controversial move requiring users to link a cell phone account to their microblog registration details. The policy has yet to be fully implemented.

All of the newspapers declared that the "real-name" registration system is the solution to the problem of online rumors, which recently reached a peak in the wake of the sacking of Chongqing Communist Party secretary Bo Xilai last month.

Bo's ouster, and the flight of his former right-hand man and police chief Wang Lijun to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, fueled rumors of a political coup in Beijing, and prompted the authorities to disable the comments function of China's hugely popular microblogging platforms.

Under new rules issued by Beijing's municipal government in December, users must link their mobile phone numbers to their Weibo account, and only those verified will be allowed to post messages.

The rules are likely to affect huge swathes of the country's Internet population, as some of of the largest microblog service providers are headquartered in the Chinese capital and are subject to its rules.

Confrontation 'pointless'


Chinese authorities have recently detained a number of netizens and online editors over retweeted material that was controversial, under new guidelines aimed at preventing the spread of online "rumors."

The death at the weekend of veteran dissident Fang Lizhi, who fled China after taking refuge in the U.S. embassy in Beijing, went largely unreported in China's tightly controlled media, apart from an editorial in the People's Daily's sister paper, the Global Times.

The editorial said Fang and other Chinese dissidents who had fled to the U.S. had "failed to make a splash."

"This perhaps is not what they had imagined at the beginning," it said, comparing overseas Chinese dissidents with the Dalai Lama, who it said has been "supported by the West for decades."

"Confrontation is pointless," it added.

The China Daily meanwhile reported that Beijing police had arrested 1,065 suspects and deleted more than 208,000 "harmful" online messages as part of an intensive nationwide crackdown on Internet-related crimes conducted since mid-February.

Chinese authorities last week ordered a leading pro-Maoist website shut down for one month because of critical essays posted on it, the site's founder said, in a move that is believed to be linked to the political fall of Bo, who instigated a public program of Mao Zedong-era songs and stories while in charge of Chongqing.

Utopia website founder Han Deqiang, who was a vocal supporter of Bo's "red songs, anti-graft" campaign in Chongqing, said in an interview with the Associated Press that he accepted the decision.

And in an editorial on Friday, the country's top military newspaper, the People's Liberation Army Daily, told China's military personnel that they should "resolutely resist the incursion of all kinds of erroneous thoughts, not be disturbed by noises, not be affected by rumors, not be pushed by any undercurrent."

Reported by Luisetta Mudie.