The popular use of the internet has given Chinese people more channels of expression, but also facilitated the circulation of rumors and false information. Netizens and experts are now calling for a fight against online rumors and misinformation to create a sound Internet realm.
Gu Mouhua could never have imagined that she would end up behind bars for a simple post on a microblog. It all started with the recent flooding in her home town in Guangdong Province.
She heard that four reservoirs had collapsed and some 100 residents were swept away by the flood. And that there was no rescue effort mounted by the local government. Without verifying the situation, she wrote a post which amounted to a rumor on her microblog. But this caused panic.
"I got more than 100 calls every day. People were worried that I might have drowned." Zhang Wumei, Local Resident said.
"Some elderly people living around the reservoir were afraid of staying in their houses and moved to the top of the mountain. People were really scared." Zhou Bihong, Local Resident said.
The police said that Gu's behaviour disrupted public order and detained her for ten days.
"If I had known about the consequences, I would never have done this. I feel sorry that I got my family worried."
China has more than 400 million people online, and an estimated 300 million microblog users. Microbloggers with a huge following often become opinion makers. Since 2011, there have been more than 20 rumors targeting the China Red Cross Society. And most of them have been posted by a group of bloggers working together.
"They fabricated news about the Red Cross purchasing villas and spending 10,000 yuan on tents. These influential bloggers did nothing but spread rumors." Yao Lixin, Spokesperson of China Red Cross Society said.
Experts believe while enjoying the freedom of speech, people should bear in mind the basic moral principle, otherwise everyone would fall victim.
"I think the social mentality is quite complex right now. People want to vent their feelings. But regardless of your views, you should be truthful and not violate the lawful rights of others." Yang Lan, Senior media professional said.
Experts are also calling on the government to do more in cleaning up the cyber environment. Law enforcement authorities should be tough on these rumor mongers. Meanwhile, IT authorities should use more sophisticated technology to counter the spread of rumors.