China / Society

Social media penalized for rumors

By Cao Yin (China Daily) Updated: 2015-08-19 07:44

Zero tolerance will be shown by the central government to online rumors, especially those stemming from breaking news, China's Internet watchdog said on Tuesday after last week's fatal blasts in Tianjin.

Some social media suspected of making or spreading rumors about the explosions have been punished, according to a statement by the Cyberspace Administration of China.

The blasts on Aug 12 in the port city killed at least 114 people, wounded hundreds and destroyed key infrastructure.

By Saturday, 50 websites suspected of spreading false information about the explosions had been cracked, while another 360 social media accounts, including those on WeChat, China's most popular instant messaging tool, and micro-blog services had also been punished, according to the statement.

Of the 50 problematic websites, 18 were closed permanently and the rest face temporary closure according to the severity of their cases, it said.

For example, the WeChat account of Zhengzhou Evening News was shut down for a week from last Thursday because it posted and broadcast that the Tianjin government would be reshuffled as a result of the explosions, authorities said.

Accounts that posted violent pictures, negative comments about firefighters or that spread false information have been closed temporarily, but those that intentionally spread rumors have been shut permanently.

"We welcome netizens reporting rumors to us and we will focus on cleaning up the rumors in coming weeks," the administration said.

Social media penalized for rumors

Premier Li Keqiang said on Sunday at the scene of the blasts that it is vital to avoid rumors being spread. He asked government departments not to miss or hide any information about the explosions.

Wang Xixin, a professor at Peking University specializing in government information transparency, backed the crackdown against online rumors, but said such rumors reflected the local government's reluctance to disclose information.

"It is not possible for the government to give accurate information and details at the start of an incident, but this cannot become an excuse to delay disclosure," Wang said.

If the government could not give an accurate death toll and the causes of an incident, it could disclose what stage the investigation had reached or what the department involved was doing, he suggested.

"Too-simple replies, such as 'I don't know' and 'I'm not sure', should be avoided at news conferences. Spokesmen should have effective interaction with the public and provide them with sufficient explanations on why some information cannot be released quickly," he said.

This would mean that the departments involved should share information before news conferences, Wang added.

(China Daily 08/19/2015 page3)

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