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China aims to eliminate ‘cancer’ in social networks

Image used with permission by copyright holder

It’s no secret that China’s government is very wary of the Internet. In recent memory, the government’s tactics to deal with that unease have shifted from censoring information and news to trying to get a handle on social networks.

Early this morning, China’s state news agency gave the newest sign that Chinese social networks are under fire by imploring various networks to stop the “cancer” of online rumors. This announcement from the Xinhua agency was handed down only days after a high-ranking Communist Party official warned similarly against online “rumor-mongering,” according to the AFP report that translated the announcements.

It seems China is currently most concerned with the prevalence of microblogging sites in the country. The Twitter-style sites (Twitter itself is blocked in the country) are a valuable source of news and information. But just like any other network, there’s plenty of rumor and gossip as well. The government has latched on this in its attempts to limit the open flow of info across social networks.

Most recently microblog site Weibo, which is run by popular news and info site Sina, announced that it had suspended a pair of users for spreading false rumors. One was allegedly suspended for saying an accused murderer was released because of his family’s political connections, while the other accused the Chinese Red Cross of selling donated blood.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Sina has become ever-more pressured by the Chinese government to crack down on such reports. The network, which has 200 million users, responded to authorities’ calls to “absolutely put an end to fake and misleading information” by saying it would try harder to eliminate the sharing of false reports.

The CPJ says its just the Chinese government’s latest way of eliminating independent reporters. Official news outlets are forced to clear their reports before distributing them, but censorship of Weibo and other social media is limited censors that are often employed by the networks themselves. Those censors have been shown to have a difficult time keeping up with news reports that run contrary to the official line. With that in mind, one would expect the Chinese government to continue to step up its censoring efforts.

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