Fake news is a real problem

By Liu Wei ( China Daily ) Updated: 2012-04-20 16:05:30

Fake news is a real problem

A scene from the blockbuster Titanic. Provided to China Daily

James Cameron's Titanic was a phenomenon in China 14 years ago and is once again generating big money - but also fake news.

It was the highest-grossing film in China for 11 years after its 1998 premiere in the country, and now the 3D version has raked in $67 million in just one week - over two-thirds of the film's foreign gross.

Yet the scene where Kate Winslet, as Rose, poses nude for a sketch was cut out.

Explaining the edit on the US satirical television show The Colbert Report, Cameron said Chinese authorities were afraid that men would reach out toward the screen and Winslet's "breasts" and inadvertently touch those sitting in front of them.

When Stephen Colbert showed surprise, Cameron said: "That is an official statement."

However, the director added he accepted the edits because the film was making so much money.

The "official statement" turned out to be a fake story from someone with the Internet handle "Doubandounimei", who created the fake news after being inspired by satirical website The Onion.

On April 14, Doubandounimei claimed that he originally posted the monologue on his Sina Weibo page (China's Twitter) and added the tag "fake news". But the "news" was reposted without the original tag.

It's an example of the ease which fake news can be manufactured and disseminated.

Another recent example is comedian Zhao Benshan, whose photo was supposed to have been used on the cover of French black metal band Nocturnal Depression.

The fake album cover was reposted thousands of times. While most people realized it was a joke, others believed it was true. The rest didn't care either way, but just joined in the game of spreading the story because it was "fun". To be fair, it is not the responsibility of the general public to determine whether these fake news items are true or not - though public figures should be more cautious about passing on falsities.

However, the media and certain government departments should do their jobs and not propagate false rumors.

Regrettably, some media organizations, both at home and abroad, publicized the Titanic fake news without confirming its truth with the State Administration of Radio, Film and TV (SARFT), the department responsible for cutting movies.

Since major Western media, such as Hollywood Reporter and the Daily Mail, spread the fake news without checking sources, the finger of blame should not be pointed at Cameron.

And since SARFT did not itself openly respond to the fake news, it did not help itself. Its silence, in fact, made the situation worse.

Actually the reason for the cut to the movie is quite simple and reasonable: China has no rating system, so nude scenes are not allowed on the big screen.

Since the Internet's ability to spread information is so potent, it can effectively promote a film far wider than traditional media, but this also has side effects.

It makes creating fast-spreading rumors an extremely easy thing to do.

New media create challenges not only for Web users but also for the press and government.

Meanwhile, members of the public need to think before they forward fake news and the press and government need to respond more quickly and be more transparent.

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