Social media popularity could actually land you in jail in China, as the country cracks down on what it calls “online rumors.” People could now be charged with defamation if untrue posts online are visited by 5,000 Internet users or are reposted more than 500 times.
The latest move from the Chinese government to control social media came in a judicial interpretation issued by China’s top court and prosecutor, according to Reuters. The charge could lead to three years in jail, the standard sentence for defamation.
China’s campaign against rumormongers began in May, when some individuals spreading rumors using Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, were detained for several days. Last month, the crackdown intensified, when the government detained five prominent microbloggers, including Charles Xue, one of the most popular celebrity bloggers better known as Xue Manzi, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Xue, who is a naturalized American, writes about his views on sensitive issues such as pollution and safety.
"People have been hurt and reaction in society has been strong, demanding with one voice serious punishment by the law for criminal activities like using the internet to spread rumors and defame people," said court spokesman Sun Jungong regarding the new measures, according to Reuters.
"No country would consider the slander of other people as 'freedom of speech'," Sun said at a news conference, carried live by the People's Daily website.
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According to the judicial interpretation, a “serious case” of spreading rumors online, involves false information that causes mental anguish to the subjects of rumors, or that cause protests, ethnic or religious unrest, or has a “bad international effect,” Reuters reported. The law also covers posts related to extortion and blackmail, according to the AFP.
Weibo users are enraged over the interpretation, but China said it is critical to stop the spread of irresponsible rumors, pointing to ridiculous rumors spread online, including a story that a soup made from dead babies is available in Guangdong province.
In recent months, a number of prominent officials have been forced to resign following being exposed as corrupt by Internet users. The regulation could put a stop to such anti-bribery revelations.
"It's far too easy for something to be reposted 500 times or get 5,000 views. Who is going to dare say anything now?" wrote one Weibo user.
"This interpretation is against the constitution and is robbing people of their freedom of speech," wrote another, Reuters reported.