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Jail time promised for false tweets in China

Xinhua will escape from Olympic 2020 gaffe, no doubt

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Use of social media in China just got more dangerous after the country’s Supreme Court announced tough new guidelines which could see untrue posts which are viewed more than 5,000 times land their author in jail for several years.

The court document stated that any post containing so-called “online rumours” viewed 5,000 times or reposted more than 500 times by its author can be detained for defamation – a crime which carries a maximum sentence of three years jail in China.

The court also clarified that users could be liable for even more serious offences if the rumours “seriously endanger social order and national interests”, for example if they lead to mass incidents, damage China’s image or lead to ethnic or religious conflict.

Although no specific sentence is given for those crimes, they’re certainly likely to mean more than three years in the slammer.

The clarification document can be seen as another step in new president Xi Jinping’s on-going bid to keep a lid on the free flow of information on the country’s hugely popular micro-blogs (weibo), which are seen by the Communist Party as a potentially destabilising force.

As TechInAsia noted, however, the system is open to abuse, not only because the Party decides what are and what aren’t “rumours”, but because it could be used by the rich and powerful to stick their opponents in jail.

All it would take is for Entrepreneur A to hire a “black PR” firm to repost 500 times a negative comment made about him by his rival, Entrepreneur B, to land B in jail.

It’s also pretty certain that none of the official government news agencies, which are notorious for getting their facts wrong, will be affected by such laws.

Xinhua, for example, has fallen numerous times for satirical stories posted online by The Onion and others, reporting them as fact.

It even called the Olympic Games 2020 vote for Istanbul, when in fact it is the capital of old foe Japan which will be the host. ®

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