Rumors don't deserve shield of laws

By Lin Xue Source:Global Times Published: 2013-9-11 22:58:01

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

In the past few days, the Chinese authorities have initiated a campaign to crack down on online rumors and rumormongers. Some even may be ending up in jail.

The Internet is changing the world and the way we live. A piece of information with no clear source can create waves on the Internet.

As early as February 2011, four people died in a stampede in Xiangshui county, Jiangsu Province due to rumors that a local chemical plant was going to explode. Thousands of residents swarmed into streets and some live broadcast the scene on social media. During the whole process, few bothered to wonder if the gas leak had really happened, and it turned out to be a malicious rumor finally.

The key word in the above-mentioned case is "rumor." Rumors are false information and general talk not based on definite knowledge.

On the UN Conference on Freedom of Information in 1948, a consensus has been reached that individuals have the freedom to seek, accept and spread information, but should be subjected to others' rights and the legal protection for others' liberty, property and safety.

From the content of online rumors, they are not within the range of protection. They are not limited by time and space and are deceptive and destructive, with the aim to cause social panic. The nuclear radiation fears from the Fukushima complex in Japan in 2011 and the public's run on salt have been associated with false information online.

The crackdown on online rumors does not equal interfering with citizens' freedom of speech.

In today's computerized world, everyone has the right to express his or her views on a particular matter.

But rumors are not based on facts and do not have a legal foundation to be spread.

The crackdown on online rumors has raised some concern that authorities are attacking dissidents under the guise of a crackdown on "rumors." But this is not the case.

The development of the Internet has made the government become more transparent. The public, through the Internet, can talk about politics and world affairs more easily and freely.

The government sees it as a test of wisdom when facing up to doubts and criticism raised by the public. Generally, the government has welcomed advisory criticism.

The comments by some experts and scholars on major issues will be adopted by the government. Such "dissenting voices" are fundamentally different from groundless rumors.

According to the laws and regulations of China, people defaming others by spreading rumors should bear civil liability. In serious cases, they may be put in prison.

Besides, a number of laws regulate that people's exercise of their rights should not come at the cost of the interests of the country, society and the others.

If we look at the couple of online rumors revealed, the spread of each rumor has brought huge harm.

Take the case in Xiangshui county. The rumor has not only caused economic losses, but also cast a negative impact on people's moral values.

The Internet is an open world, but it is definitely not a world of absolute freedom.

As the old saying goes, "A rumor stops when it comes to a wise person." As society becomes more complex than ever and Internet technology develops rapidly, even the virtual world needs the regulation of law.

Online rumors will gradually stop with the implementation of the rule of law.

The author is a lawyer based in Beijing.

Posted in: Viewpoint

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