Confusion in online rumor crackdown

By Jiang Jie Source:Global Times Published: 2013-9-1 23:08:01


A late Saturday Sina Weibo post by the local police in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, said the ongoing campaign against online rumors has to abide by the law but should not be "extended blindly."

"The Security Administration Punishment Law can only be applied to cases where rumors have indeed disturbed the social order, caused public panic and interfered with the normal work of government bodies," read the post.

The post also said it will be a nightmare if everyone is too scared to speak up, "so we must be cautious not to extend the campaign blindly," clarifying that rumors distorting historical facts do not disturb public order.

However, the post was erased from the official account hours later, reported the Guangzhou-based Yangcheng Evening News on Sunday, adding that it was deleted by the Weibo account's operator but not because of receiving pressure from superior government bodies.

While some Net users applauded the post, many have shown their concern that the campaign has gone too far, especially after local police in Hebei Province put a woman in administrative detention on August 28, after she posted in an online forum trying to confirm an alleged local murder case.

A similar case occurred in Hubei Province on August 29, when a man was detained after writing posts on several websites about a traffic accident, in which he miscalculated the casualties.

Some police are admitting mistakes in the crackdown. Local police in Dangshan county, Anhui Province, on August 29 apologized for inappropriately punishing a Net user who also publicized the wrong death toll in a car accident. The punishment, ruling the man be detained for five days, was called off.

Tong Zhiwei, a professor with the Shanghai-based East China University of Political Science and Law, told the Global Times that the rectification was in accordance with the law and the apology showed that authorities have realized that they should not overdo the crackdown.

"However, the range of this campaign has already been broadened in the cases of Hubei and Hebei provinces," Tong said.

Duan Wanjin, a lawyer from the Beijing-based Dacheng Law Firm, agreed that many personal opinions have been treated as rumors.

"One's words can only be judged as rumor if they have simultaneously distorted the information and caused serious consequences," Duan told the Global Times, adding that people should be allowed to publish unverified information to push for an official clarification. 

"Truth should not be tightly gripped by the authorities and after the public is offered a chance of exchanging information, the real information will come out on its own," Duan said.

Although the freedom of speech is protected by China's Constitution, specific laws to regulate the freedom are also needed, Tong said.

Posted in: Society

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