Chinese govt. warns of Internet crackdown

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View of an office of Sina Weibo, China's third-most visited Internet portal. Photo - Nelson Ching/Bloomberg

China?s government told its 500 million?Internet users?to stop spreading ?malignant rumours? online or face punishment, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, citing a cabinet spokesman it didn?t name.

Users in China must ?abide by the law, show self-discipline and refrain from spreading rumours,? the spokesman for the State Council?s State Internet Information Office said, according to Xinhua.

He criticized a so-called prostitute diary on Sina Corp.?s Weibo microblog that was allegedly written by a 31-year-old man, who made up stories about working as a 22-year-old prostitute in Hangzhou, a city in eastern China?s Zhejiang province, the government news agency added. The site attracted more than 250,000 users, reports suggest.

SOCIAL MEDIA THREAT

China?s leaders are grappling with how to manage Twitter-like online microblogs that spread information difficult for government censors to control. Several members of the ruling Communist Party?s Politburo have visited Internet companies in recent weeks in the wake of a deadly train crash in July.

Online commentators criticised the government?s handling of the case and spread commentary and photos of the accident at odds with the official government line.

Social media sites, platforms for users to generate content, are posing a challenge to China?s authoritarian government. Beijing wants to establish a control over the media with instructions over what should to told to people or not.

Xinhua, citing the spokesman, said local authorities and websites should hold people who ?spread rumors? accountable and ?penalise them according to the law.?

Under Chinese regulations, spreading rumours is punishable by five to 10 days in jail plus a 500 yuan ($80) fine.

In March this year, a resident of Hangzhou received a maximum penalty for warn?ing people to stay away from seafood originating from eastern China be?cause the seas were being con?taminated by leaks from the Japanese nuclear power plant damaged by the earthquake and?tsunami.

HIGH INTERNET USAGE

China is home to the world’s largest number of registered netizens. The rising popularity of micro-blogging services has allowed a large segment of the country’s population to voice their opinions and beliefs in an unprecedented way.

The number of Chinese micro-bloggers reached 195 million by the end of June, a 208.9 percent increase over the number recorded around the end of 2010, according to statistics from the China Internet Network Information Center.

The total number of Internet users in the country is greater than the netizen populations of the world excluding from India and China.

Sources: Bloomberg, The Chronicle Herald, Xinhuanet

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