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UPDATED: July 11, 2014 NO. 36, SEPTEMBER 5, 2013
Cleaning Up Cyberspace
Actions taken to curb false rumors online
By Yin Pumin

Among the many false rumors they started was an accusation that the government had granted compensation worth 270 million yuan ($44 million) to the family of a foreign national who died in a train crash in Wenzhou, east China's Zhejiang Province, on July 23, 2011. The maximum compensation awarded to the families of Chinese nationals who died in the crash was 450,000 yuan ($73,500).

The micro-blog was forwarded about 12,000 times within two hours and triggered public anger over the large difference in compensation before the Ministry of Railways denied the claim.

In 2011, a woman self-identified as Guo Meimei claimed on Sina Weibo that she was head of an organization linked with the Red Cross Society of China and posted photos online detailing her lavish lifestyle. Though it was later proved that Guo lied about her connections to the Red Cross Society of China, her lies have still greatly damaged the perceived credibility and the public image of the charity and the volume of donations that it has received following the Guo incident have plunged.

Regulating rumors

Sina Weibo established a team in 2010 to label misinformation after confirmation. Last year, it went further by opening a platform for Internet users to report false rumors online. The number of participants has reached around 20,000. It has received approximately 11,380 reports of deceptive information and dealt with 11,358 of them, the company said.

In the wake of the Erma case, Sina Weibo has pledged to improve its system for monitoring rumors.

Fabricated details, exaggerated facts, publishing old information and interpreting information out of context are common, said Mao Taotao, a Sina Weibo employee in charge of monitoring rumors.

"We also deal with cases in which someone published and spread completely false rumors online or published photos that were not in accordance with their text," he said. "In addition, some incomplete information was identified as fake."

Internet regulators have also taken actions against online false rumors. On August 1, the Beijing Internet Information Office, along with the Beijing Internet Association, coordinated six Internet service providers to launch an anti-misinformation platform.

The platform was jointly launched by Sina Weibo, search portals including Baidu.com and Sogou.com, as well as Web portals including Qianlong.com, Sohu.com and 163.com. It collects statements from member websites in order to refute online false rumors and expose the websites running phishing scams where users are tricked into giving up the username and password for their e-mail or social media accounts so that a third party can gain control over these.

"The platform is a new attempt by these Beijing-based websites, aiming to help Internet users to separate false rumors from the truth," said Chen Hua, Director of the Internet Information Service and Management Department under the Being Internet Information Office.

Meanwhile, many legal experts have called for stricter criminal sanctions in order to curb online false rumors.

"Citizens' right to express themselves should be protected, but if their speeches violate others' legitimate rights and interests, they should be held accountable," said Liu Deliang, a professor with the Law School of Beijing Normal University.

Liu believes that the openness of the Internet provides an environment that allows for rumors to spread quickly. "Someone who creates false rumors may think they might evade punishment, and other netizens may repost rumors without verifying its truth first," Liu said.

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