China’s latest attempt to control what’s said on the Internet comes in the form of an amendment to the government’s criminal law, which makes it illegal to circulate false stories on the Internet. As always, China is claiming that these new rules are there to protect civilians, but in realty, that’s just the excuse the country is using to give itself the power to throw people in jail for as long as seven years for spreading information that China deems to be false.
Popular social media platforms such as Weibo, WeChat, and public online forums are now under supervision following the Chinese government’s ruling that the posting and circulating of fake news is a criminal offence. The latest amendment to Chinese criminal law, effective from November 1, 2015, stipulates that those “intentionally spreading false information on the developments of emergencies such as epidemics or other disasters, and posting related warnings on the internet and social media”, which has “severely disturbed social order”, will receive jail time of less than three years, detention or surveillance, according to a Sina news report on Sunday. If such an act causes severe consequences, the fake-information-spreader will face jail time between three to seven years. The ruling will target the spread of fabricated news stories and telephone fraud cases, some of which were listed as “poverty seeking donations” and “help to find lost child” to become viral. Sina Weibo operating manager Yin Xuegeng said similar acts were previously convicted under the charges of “illegal operation” or “disturbing public order”. Yin said he expects the new amendment is likely to reduce controversies in the future.