Chinese netizens have become the largest presence on the Internet with an online user population of over 564 million by the end of 2012, but it also has a dark side: the spread of false information.
Over the past few years, we have been bewildered and misled by many rumors spread online, but fortunately the situation is likely to improve in the future.
Beijing launched its first joint anti-rumor online platform Thursday. Six of China's most influential Internet service providers, including Sina Weibo, Sohu and Baidu, have become involved in verifying posts and exposing false information.
It's also the first joint "rumor control" platform nationwide. Misinformation will be quickly reported to the platform and published on its page after being identified by the six Internet companies.
So far, nearly 100,000 entries, believed to contain false information, have been found on the platform and each has been corrected. In addition, the platform also discloses hundreds of phishing websites and introduces methods for the public to report online rumors.
This is a laudable step. Rumors can impose severe side effects on the social regulation. They can cause widespread panic, disturb the order of society and damage the government's credibility.
Online rumor prevention is a challenge faced by most countries.
Rumors on social media were considered to play a decisive role in intensifying ethnic conflicts in Assam, India in August 2012, in which 76 people were killed and over 400,000 people had to take shelter.
The US Federal Emergency Management Agency launched a "rumor control" operation to identify rumors circulating online after the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey and New York last year.
China, with the largest online population, bears a heavier task in combating online rumors.
Strengthening the responsibilities of Internet companies and encouraging them to assume bigger responsibilities is the right approach.
By establishing the joint online platform, Internet companies are urged to verify controversial posts and stop their spread. Meanwhile, if the post is related to government issues, their moves to identify the information could stimulate relevant authorities in their progress toward making information transparent.
It has been reported that in the future the joint platform will develop games teaching netizens skills to prevent being cheated and classify exposed rumors.
As an old Chinese saying goes, "A rumor stops when it comes to a wise person." When the Internet service providers, netizens and relevant authorities are all motivated to act "wisely," online rumors will have little room to spread.