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China's web biz bosses crank up gossip crackdown

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Chinese tech firms have agreed to add more bricks to the Great Firewall of China at the end of a summit hosted by the country's government.

The chiefs of 40 or so companies, including search behemoth Baidu and Yahoo! suitor Alibaba, as well as Sina (owner of microblogging site Weibo) and IM service Tencent, agreed to "strengthen self-control, self-restraint and strict self-discipline", the official news agency Xinhua said on Sunday.

Xinhua said that the tech firms had agreed to "resolutely curb" online rumours, pornography, fraud and other information deemed "harmful" to the state.

The agreement came after the bigwigs had been in three-day talks with the government's State Internet Information Office.

The confab was part of a more general crackdown on the net in China. Last month, the Communist Party's Central Committee held its annual meeting and issued a number of communiques on policy for the year, including one on the web.

The document said the government wanted to "strengthen guidance and administration of social internet services and instant communications tools and regulate the orderly dissemination of information" and "apply the law to sternly punish the dissemination of harmful information".

Phrases like "rumours" and "harmful information" are often taken by observers as code for any viewpoints that disagree with the ruling party's agenda.

Microblogging sites are proving challenging for the Chinese government's infamous Great Firewall of China because of the speed with which short messages can be resent and spread to huge numbers of people.

Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter, has proved particularly irksome to Chinese officials. In July, the site provided news and updates on a bullet-train crash in Wenzhou that contradicted the official accounts, as well as expressing anger at how the authorities responded. ®

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