Persistent online rumors call for harsh punishment

By Sun Xiaobo Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/21 23:48:39

Several videos showing a Chinese woman in her 20s carrying heavy cement bags for a living have recently gone viral on China's Internet. The woman, surnamed Zhang, was working in Xiao county, East China's Anhui Province, and reportedly carrying 50 tons of cement every day to provide for the treatment of her cancer-stricken husband. However, it turned out that the touching love story was fabricated by a netizen using videos posted online by Zhang to attract more views, since a sad love story is always eye-catching and an online post with over 100,000 visitors is a watershed that easily leads to fame and fortune.

The cement girl case is merely one of a long list of online rumors this year. Given the rapid development of social media in China, many rumormongers have detected what subjects Internet users care about most and then make up rumors that can be easily spread via social media to drive clicks. 

As such rumors are often spread from people you know, they win trust from their readers more easily. After an earthquake jolted Jiuzhaigou, Southwest China's Sichuan Province, earlier this month, some people spread rumors in the name of the local earthquake watchdog that there would be strong aftershocks in the region, which naturally aroused huge panic among residents in the quake-hit place.

In February, three videos posted online tried to show that some brands of nori were made of plastic and warned viewers not buy it, causing millions of yuan in losses to nori manufacturers. Yet the truth is, the video-maker just wanted to extort the nori manufacturers with the videos. The rumormongers are quite aware what concerns the public most and they make the most of it.

 It's no easy thing to make Internet a rumor-free place. There is a pattern to how rumors are spread online. Usually false information is posted online first by some netizens, then spotted and widely spread by some websites to reach more people, causing widespread confusion.

Eradicating these rumors would need tough measures to eliminate the breeding grounds for it.

Relevant laws and regulations need to be improved to severely punish those who create and repost rumors without verification so that a higher cost will be paid by those who spread rumors to produce a sufficient deterrent.

Internet monitoring needs to be heightened to identify and tackle rumors in a timely manner to prevent them from jeopardizing others. And the authorities have to act transparently and make clarifications as soon as possible so as to minimize the damage and protect their credibility.

An unfounded rumor stops with the wise. In the Internet era, it's essential for individuals to be wiser and distance themselves from rumors.

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