Celebrity blogger Xue Charles Bi-Chuen, detained last month for alleged group sex with prostitutes, has admitted that the 12 million followers on his Sina Weibo made him feel like "an emperor looking after state affairs" and that he was being irresponsible spreading unverified information.
Xue, a noted venture capitalist also known online as "Xue Manzi," talked to police Friday in a Beijing detention center about how he went from a "nobody" online to an influential Big V (celebrity with verified Weibo account) whose opinions and sometimes false messages can affect millions, the Xinhua News Agency reported Sunday.
A national campaign to crack down on online rumors was launched following Xue's arrest, triggering nationwide debate over online responsibility and the legal limit of cyberspace.
Xue said that he was very careful when reposting in the beginning but gradually became careless and was eager to forward and comment on almost anything he saw.
"On one side it saved time and on the other side I thought I would not be held responsible as I was not the original writer," said Xue, who posted or forwarded more than 100 posts on Weibo a day at peak times.
"Every morning when I log on to my Weibo account, I see thousands of messages from followers. Even a minister would not receive invitations from 30 provinces and cities every day," he said, adding companies or places would benefit from his "recommendations."
Xue said he also posted some advertisements to make money, according to Xinhua.
"My irresponsibility in spreading unverified information online, such as contraceptive drugs found in river water, was a venting of negative moods, and showed neglect of the positive social mainstream," Xue said.
The Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate issued interpretations last week clarifying a number of online offenses punishable under the Criminal Law, including the crimes of defamation, extortion, illegal business operations and "provoking trouble."
Two other popular bloggers were also detained in the past week. Wang Gongquan, a well-known venture capitalist and a blogger with over 230,000 followers, was detained on Friday by Beijing police for "disturbing public order." Details of Wang's case were not revealed.
Dong Liangjie, a popular online commentator with over 300,000 followers, is said to have been put under custody in Suzhou, East China's Jiangsu Province last Wednesday. Dong's family confirmed the news with the Beijing Times, suspecting the detention had something to do with online rumors.
Last October, Dong posted a message on his Sina Weibo, allegedly citing information from an academic paper, that pork sold in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province contained excessive amounts of lead. The local government later said it was untrue.
Chen Yang, an information management professor from Wuhan University, conducted research on China's social media and concluded that a group of about 250 popular bloggers with an average of 100,000 followers controls a majority of the online public opinion environment, according to the Southern Weekly.
"It is not normal for a small group of people to monopolize public opinion without proper regulation. Their statements have so much sway that if not properly used, could trigger serious consequences," Song Jianwu, dean of the School of Journalism and Media at the China University of Political Science and Law, told the Global Times, citing examples in the UK and other parts of the world where social media such as Twitter and Facebook potentially help fuel social unrest.
"How to properly channel public sentiment is a tricky question facing every government. Authorities face the dilemma of how to maintain social order without infringing upon people's rights," Song noted.
Agencies contributed to this story