Ending the Internet rumour mill

Chow How Ban in Beijing/The Star
Asia News Network

Beijing (The Star/ANN) - Authorities have begun a crackdown on rumour-mongers who use the Net to cause confusion. The most recent rumour was about Chinese troops taking over Beijing following the removal of a top municipal Communist Party official.

Over dinner with a few fellow journalists on March 19, rumours that the Chinese military troops had taken over Beijing spread around the table and alarm bells rang.

Our immediate feeling was that it was impossible that the Chinese capital would be turned into chaos.

We concluded that there was only a small possibility that the supporters of ousted Chongqing municipal Communist Party secretary Bo Xilai could cause problems for the Chinese leadership.

The rumours came days after the party¿s announcement of the removal of the influential politician from the top Chongqing post and his position in the city¿s party standing committee.

Alhough there had not been any official explanation for Bo¿s sacking, it is believed that it was linked to the incident where Bo¿s former second man and the city¿s police chief and vice-mayor Wang Lijun had allegedly visited the US consulate office in Chengdu to seek asylum and expose the purported corruption of Bo.

On March 30, the Beijing police finally confirmed that the so-called security tension was merely a rumour and six people were held for spreading false news on the Internet.

The cops said the suspects had admitted their wrongdoing and apologised.

Meanwhile, the telecom administration department said they closed 16 websites and gave a warning to the Sina and QQ weibo (Chinese version of Twitter) platforms for not preventing the spread of the rumours.

The authorities said making use of the Internet to create and spread rumours would confuse the public and cause social disorder.

Internet users had been urged to abide by the laws and help maintain the healthy development of the cyberspace.

In recent months, the authorities have cracked down on rumour mills. In one case, a man from Henan pro­vince started a rumour that a HIV/AIDS patient from Xinjiang had used his blood to contaminate food to spread the disease to others and sent it to a woman in Zhengzhou city via SMS.

Other ¿news¿ included stories such as ¿Wuhan university student had her kidney cut off and was eventually killed¿, ¿Yuxi will be hit by 8.6- magnitude earthquake¿, ¿village children in Qianxi robbed for their kidneys¿ and ¿Hainan student was inebriated and gang-raped¿. All proved to be false.

Following the arrest of the rumour-mongers who created the news that the military troops had taken over Beijing, many Netizens lauded the move.

¿Qingcheng¿ from Hohhot in Inner Mongolia autonomous region said: ¿Nowadays the world is filled with rumour-mongers. It will become more harmful if we do not strictly punish the perpetrators."

Another Netizen ¿gchgyz¿ from Hebei province said many quarters in China and abroad would want to cause problems in the country and the authorities should be resolute in stopping them.

¿It was no wonder the Sina weibo closed its comments forum," said another Internet user.

In its editorial published last Sunday, the state newspaper Peo­­-ple¿s Daily said some quarters had become more audacious in creating news out of thin air and spreading them like wildfire.

¿We should not be lenient when it comes to punishing those who create and spread false news on the Internet. Sometimes a serious incident breaks out because of widespread rumours that fan public emotions that can further aggravate the situation," it said.

Global Times said rumours of such nature should not be overlooked as China was going through an important year when the Chinese Com­munist Party¿s 18th congress would be held around September and the nation was facing the challenges of an economic transformation.

China Youth Daily said it was time for parents and teachers to educate the younger generation to be responsible people.