China has said online media cannot report any news sourced from social media platforms like the country’s Twitter-like platform Weibo and mobile phone app WeChat without verifying the information.
China’s internet regulator is carrying out a campaign against what it calls news based on rumours or fake news, but this new rule could also be seen as tightening control over news on the internet. “It is forbidden to use hearsay to create news or use conjecture and imagination to distort the facts,” the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) said in a statement.
“All levels of the cyberspace administration must earnestly fulfil their management responsibility for internet content, strengthen supervision and investigation, severely probe and handle fake and unfactual news,” it said.
Official news agency Xinhua said: “All websites should bear the key responsibility to further streamline the course of reporting and publishing of news, and set up a sound internal monitoring mechanism among all mobile news portals (and) Weibo or WeChat.”
The CAC directive comes days after Xu Lin, the deputy head of the organisation, replaced his boss, Lu Wei, as its head.
Xinhua had reported last year that “Sina Weibo is still the largest petri-dish of online rumours, but rumours on WeChat, the instant messaging service, are more difficult to dispel.”
Quoting from a report published by the influential Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, it said some 59% of fake news items in 2014 originated on Sina Weibo, while rumours on WeChat, although only accounting for 7%, were more difficult to dispel because it is a closed system.”
The report said food safety, personal security and health were the top topics for fake stories.
It said stories were shared more quickly between Monday and Wednesday, with Tuesday being the peak time.
“Compared with Weibo, where different stories often contradict each other, people on WeChat are reticent to point out rumors posted by their friends and families,” it said.
President Xi Jinping has been calling for “coordinated development of cyberspace security” in his speeches.
“Security is a prerequisite for Internet development, and development will also safeguard Internet security, Xi was quoted recently by the state media as saying. He added it was important “to protect key information infrastructure and ensure online security.”