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UPDATED: March 18, 2015 NO. 12 MARCH 19, 2015
Faster Than the Speed of Light
The Internet provides a vehicle for all sorts of news, much of it fabricated, to travel quickly
By Yuan Yuan


Before the release of director Jiang Wen's new movie Gone With the Bullets in December 2014, the news that he had died blew up online.

Vivid and detailed stories of his death abounded, including details of how his family found him.

"I am still alive, but it would seem I died a few times this year," Jiang said after the rumors arose.

True or false?

As early as September last year, the Internet was rife with rumors that Jiang was dead. "I was astonished to hear I was dead," said Jiang. "I didn't understand why people wanted to spread this rumor."

Jiang has not been the only victim of such rumors. In 2012, Li Yuchun, a pop singer was rumored to have died during cosmetic surgery. In 2010, it was alleged that Eric Tsang, a Hong Kong movie star, had died of a heart attack while watching the FIFA World Cup.

For other celebrities, tales of divorce have cropped up seemingly out of nowhere. "We were the last to know we had already divorced," joked Li Xiang, a hostess and President of Mango Media Group. "Our apparent separation has been rumored a number of times."

Normally, it is hard to track the origin of such rumors. "We can do nothing but get used to it," said Li.

However, dealing with false reports on other matters is not so simple.

In November 2014, posts online claimed that the local government in Shangri-La, southwest China's Yunnan Province, forcibly demolished residents' houses and two children had been buried alive.

The posts shared a picture of two dead children and the posts were forwarded and shared online. Later, the news was proved to have been fabricated, with the picture coming from an old story about an earthquake.

China's police forces have said they will trace the origins of such rumors and bring the perpetrators to justice.

According to a 10-clause judicial interpretation issued by China's top court and procuratorate on September 3, 2013, people who post slanderous comments online will face up to three years in prison if their statements are reposted. The interpretation will serve as a means for authorities to ensure the healthy development of the Internet.

The new rules say that people will face defamation charges if the online rumors they create are viewed by at least 5,000 Internet users or shared 500 or more times.

In April 2014, Qin Zhihui, known as Qin Huohuo in cyberspace, became the first person to appear in court on rumormongering charges since the adoption of these new rules.

Qin, born in 1984, was accused of creating and spreading rumors about Chinese celebrities and the government. He spread rumors via microblogging platforms from December 2012 to August 2013. He claimed that Beijing had granted 30 million euro in compensation to a foreigner who died in a train crash in east China's Zhejiang Province in 2011.

The rumor was reposted 11,000 times and commented on 3,300 times, with Qin's fabrications inciting anger over apparent disparities in how foreigners and Chinese people were compensated.

"I just wanted people to see what I had posted and make netizens discuss them," he told the court when asked by prosecutors why he spread the rumors.

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