A gang consisting of five people, including a Weibo celebrity, have been arrested by police in Central China's Hunan Province recently on charges of rumor-mongering, extortion and provoking trouble amid a nationwide campaign combating online rumors.
Ge Qiwei, whose original name is Zhou Bo, is the latest "Big V," Weibo celebrity, detained for suspected online crimes since August. The victims of Ge's case include cadres and staff from enterprises and public institutions in more than 10 provincial-level regions, involving millions of yuan, according to a Monday report released on the official website of the Ministry of Public Security.
Ge, 29, who identifies himself as a freelance writer and news reporter, allegedly started illegal interviews from 2011. He then became famous on Weibo by reporting a series of eye-catching news, gaining over 700,000 followers.
According to the report, by using his personal impact online, Ge collected negative news of institutions and individuals, blackmailing victims by threatening to release the information and charging them fees to remove negative reports. The price of a deal could reach as high as several million yuan.
In April, Ge fabricated an untrue report online, claiming that a construction company in Hunan Province illegally gained a piece of land from the local government at an unreasonably low price. He then asked the boss of the company, surnamed Peng, for 120,000 yuan ($19,692) to remove the news. Unwillingly, Peng then paid him 60,000 yuan in an attempt to avoid further negative impact, according to a report by the Xinhua News Agency.
The investigation by the police shows that Ge and his gang are implicated in at least 16 cases of extortion.
Ge also fabricated and spread rumors to improve his personal impact, causing severe social disorder, the report said.
In May 2011, Ge fabricated a rumor saying that traffic police officers in Hengdong, Hunan Province, beat a driver, causing thousands of people to gather at the scene. The post, which was widely circulated and even quoted by mainstream media, was viewed over 1 million times.
"It was merely routine work. No one hit anybody on that day," Huang Xiangyun, one of the officers who was then wrongly punished, was cited by china.com.cn as saying, adding that only a few dozens people were gathered watching.
Ge was officially detained on August 28. Ge has confessed to the crimes and expressed his regret in an online letter for his "irresponsible" actions and the "extreme negative effects to the society" he had caused, Xinhua said.
Meanwhile, Zhou Fang, an editor at Xinhua, has been punished by the agency for fabricating rumors after releasing an eye-catching post on his blog in July saying that a ministerial-level official drank breast milk, according to a Tuesday report released by news portal takungpao.com.
Hundreds of people have been detained amid the campaign targeting online rumors since August, including several Big Vs, such as Lierchaisi and Zhou Lubao, who allegedly released untrue information online.
"The judicial interpretation, which was released in September aiming at curbing online rumors, stipulates that a person who posts a rumor that leads to 500 instances of retweeting or 5,000 visits could be punished by the Criminal Law. That means that Big Vs, some of whom have millions of fans, should watch their tongue and be responsible for what they say," Zhang Yonghong, a professor at the Law School of Xiangtan University, told the Global Times.
"The fame of Big Vs is vulnerable and could be hurt by these irresponsible celebrities," Wang Chuanbao, a professor with the Nanjing Institute of Politics, told the Global Times on Tuesday, adding that the downfall of these unqualified celebrities were good for cleansing the cyber environment.