Details of a new law issued by Chinaâ€™s supreme court are bound to make loose talkers on Sina Weibo* and other social media platforms think twice before speaking freely.
The law says that any libelous posts or messages will be considered â€œsevereâ€ breaches of the law if they are visited or clicked on more than 5,000 times or retweeted more than 500 times.
Those found guilty could face up to three years in jail, reports Chinese state media.
As if that werenâ€™t alarming enough, the threshold for being charged with this crime includes offenses as vague and subjective as â€œdamaging the national imageâ€ and â€œcausing adverse international effects.â€
The law is the latest attempt to crack down on â€œblack PR firms,â€ companies that make money from removing unflattering information from the internet.
Among other things, black PR firms often target companies, spreading gossip or misinformation about them, and then approaching them for payment in exchange for removing the smear campaign.
Itâ€™s a big business, the Sina Weibo accounts controlled by a huge black PR firm that was just busted had a total audience of 220 million followers.
Since the campaign against â€œrumor-mongeringâ€ and â€œspreading false informationâ€ picked up in June, Shanghai police have opened more than 380 cases, while Henan police have investigated a whopping 463 cases, making 131 arrests.
And itâ€™s not just Sina Weibo. The police are also watching Tencentâ€™s WeChat, which is organized mainly around private circles of friends.
But for every big black PR firm bust, authorities also seem to be ensnaring a lot of innocent users of social media.
For example, in late August, a women in Anhui province posted on Sina Weibo that 16 people died in a car accident that had just taken place, when the death toll was only 10.
Local police placed her under â€œadministrative detentionâ€ for five days as punishment for â€œspreading rumors.â€
In another case, a 20-year-old Anhui woman was imprisoned for posting the comment â€œI heard there was a murder in Louzhuangâ€”is there anyone who knows what actually happened?â€ on a Baidu discussion board.
The post, which was clicked on 1,000 times, counted as â€œdisrupting social orderâ€.
In late August, a Weibo user stoked online discussion with a post saying that the â€œfive heroes of Langya Mountainâ€â€”martyrs in the war against the Japanese who are a source of Communist Party prideâ€”had actually been army deserters who oppressed the local villagers of Langya, and that the latter eventually gave them up to the Japanese.
This, determined the local police, â€œcreated unhealthy social effectsâ€.
Authorities arrested and held the Weibo user under administrative detention for seven days. Something similar happened with four people who â€œdefamedâ€ the Party mascot, Lei Feng.
The new clarifications have big implications for harmless online chatter. If the posts of an amateur historian or inquisitive citizen garner enough attention, the author could face three years in prison.-World news site
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