Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Short, Incomplete History of How China's Web Sites Handle Internet Rumors


Politburo Member Visits Sina 

On August 22, Liu Qi (刘淇), Beijing's Party secretary and a member of the Politburo, visited officials and said that they should “resolutely put an end to fake and misleading information.”

Footage broadcast on state-run television showed Liu and dozens of officials touring Sina's offices and getting an introduction to Weibo from CEO Charles Chao. Also on hand were former Google China head Kai-Fu Lee and Beijing real estate mogul Pan Shiyi. According to the Beijing Daily article entitled "Liu Qi Survey's Sina: Operate New Weibo Technology Well, Put a Stop to False Negative Information" (刘淇在新浪调研:运用好微博新技术 抵制虚假消极信息) published the following day, Liu called on Sina to:
Put an end to false harmful information, ensure the integrity of information that is published, create a healthy and improving atmosphere for online opinion, while simultaneously taking advantage of their own platform, establishing their own teams of specialists, implementing new Internet technologies, actively spreading the core values of socialism, propagating advanced socialist culture, encouraging and motivating users' hearts and minds to build socialism with Chinese characteristics, and serving the construction of a socialist harmonious society.
On August 25, Xinhua published an editorial entitled "More Powerful Attacks Need to Eradicated the Poison of Internet Rumors (铲除网络谣言之毒须加大打击力度). The editorial, signed by Zhou Jijian (周继坚), stated:
In order to weed rumors out of the soil in which they propagate and spread, it is necessary for relevant government agencies to strengthen Internet administration and increase the power of their attacks on rumors. In accordance with laws and regulations, the law enforcement agencies responsible for public security must take the lead, and investigate those who use the Internet to spread rumors and create trouble and threaten society, and make those who spread rumors pay based on the specific facts associated with the rumors spread, the degree of harm to society, their criminal motivations, and other objective criteria.
Sina Launches Crackdown

On August 26, 2011, Sina notified each of its 200 million users that several users deemed to have spread unfounded rumors would have their accounts suspended for one month.

Below are translations of the first two "rumor buster" notices that Sina sent out on "Weibo Piyao" - its page dedicated to busting rumors:
"Suspect Released on Bail in Case of Assaulting 19 Year Old Wuhan Girl" is not true. Recently a user posting information that a 19 year old Wuhan girl was murdered, and that the suspect's well-connected father got him released on bail. An investigation shows this is not the factual. The Wuhan Public Security Office and the Qiaokou precinct, which had jurisdiction in this case, have confirmed that the suspect remains in custody at a detention center. The local journalist @IAmAFish has sought confirmation from several parties, including the girl's family and has also confirmed that the suspect remains under arrest awaiting a hearing. Because they published non-factual information, the user has had their posting and viewing functions suspended for one month.
“武汉19岁少女遇害案疑犯获保释”不实 - 近日有用户发微博,称一名19岁少女在武汉被杀害,疑犯被有权势的父亲保释。经查此说法不实。武汉市公安局和管辖该案的硚口分局均证实,疑犯仍被关押在看守所。当地记者@我是1条鱼向受害者家属等多方求证也确认,疑犯仍被刑拘待审。因发布不实消息,该用户被取消发布和被关注功能一个月。详见:月26日 13:18 
Weibo Exposes the Rumor that "Red Cross Sells Blood to Hospitals for 200 Yuan a Bag that Was Donated Without Compensation" is False. Rumor Buster Notice: Recently a user posted that "Red Cross Sells Blood to Hospitals for 200 Yuan a Bag that Was Donated Without Compensation, Hospitals Sell it for 500 Yuan." Based on a media investigation, the collection and use of blood is the responsibility of the Ministry of Health, and the Red Cross only participates in uncompensated blood donation and promotions. In addition, patients only pay fees for blood screening and storage, and not for the blood itself, and that uncompensated blood donors can use blood without compesation. See the relevant reports from the People's Daily and Xinhua here:
微博辟谣“无偿献血被红十字以一袋200元卖给医院“说法不实 - 辟谣公告:近日有用户发微博,称“无偿献血被红十字以一袋200元卖给医院,医院卖500元”。据媒体调查,血液采集和使用由卫生部门负责,红十字会只参与无偿献血的宣传等工作;且患者支付的是血液检验储存等费用,并非血液本身费用,无偿献血者用血时可无偿使用。详见人民网相关报道:;新华网相关报道:月26日 11:16

Sina Decides Reports on Chen Guangcheng are Rumors

On October 12, 2011, the Global Times published English ("Don't turn a village into a pressure cooker") and Chinese ("Don't Turn the Chen Guangcheng Affair Into an Ideological Issue" 不应将陈光诚事件意识形态化) versions of an editorial about Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚). The English version of the editorial described Chen's situation this way:
According to media reports, Chen, a local activist for people who are treated unfairly under the family-planning policy, has been under house arrest in Linyi, Shandong Province since September last year. It is reported that both individuals and media were prevented from visiting him by local authorities. Whether this is true and whether such measures are legal, there needs to more reliable information released by local governments.
The Chinese version characterized it this way:
There are many perspectives and starting points of opinion regarding whether Chen is currently under "soft detention" and the legality of the surveillance of his home. Under these circumstances, we believe that the relevant agencies in Linyi should provide sufficient information to the outside world, and allow the various debates to find a direction based on a common set of facts.
The Chinese version of the article was subsequently deleted.

This screenshot was taken on October 13, 2011, and shows that Sina Weibo was censoring searches for "Free Guangcheng" (自由光诚).

On October 17, 2011, Sina's Quash Rumor weibo announced two accounts had been permanently shut down for publishing false information in connection with Linyi. The announcements read:
An investigation has shown: Yesterday, the IP address of @Monuluokeke( posts was the same as the IP address of @HuchenchenTim( posts. They all came from someplace in Guangzhou. Tomorrow we will announce how we will handle the resolution of this.
经查:昨日,@魔女骆可可(发布微博 ip与@胡晨晨tim(发布微博的ip地址相同,均来自广州某地。我们将在明天公布处理结果。
Comments: 1186 
Yesterday,@HuchenchenTim( @Monuluokeke( about their experiences in Linyi, Shandong. An investigation has shown that the content originated from the same IP address in Guangzhou, and were fabricated by the same person. Therefore, these two accounts have been permanently banned from posting or being followed.
Comments: 601
Here are some examples of Weibo users' comments on the two announcements:
Angry Brother Kan: Sina you son-of-a-b*tch, what f*cking evidence do you have proving that someone's experience is fabricated, show us your evidence you f*cker, you say its fabricated so its fabricated, fabricate this motherf*cker! You have less shame and more criminality than the courts do, stinking son-of-a-b*tch Sina, F*CK YOU!!!
愤怒的侃哥 新浪臭SB,你妈你有什么证据证明人家经历是编造,你妈逼你拿证据出来啊,你说编造就编造,编你妈个头啊!你妈逼你比法院还流氓还无耻,臭SB新浪,F[*]CK YOU!!! 
Angst on the Summer Solstice: @BaiLu- The Linyi government could tell everyone whether or not a person named Chen Guangcheng exists, and if he doesn't, then tell everyone that he doesn't exist. It could also welcome everyone to go to Linyi any time to travel, and the rumor would then collapse on itself. But nothing is said, its just posts being deleted, and this can only result in them speeding up their loss of control.
夏至的忧伤 回复@白录:临沂政府可以告诉大家,是否真有陈光诚此人,如果没有,就告诉大家此人不存在。也可以欢迎大家随时去临沂旅游,谣言则不攻自破。什么也不说,只是删帖,只能让事态更加失控(21分钟前) 
Looking for Someone Honest: Weibo can refute rumors. What I would like to know is, when can Chen Guangcheng come out to refute rumors? Can the Linyi government come out and refute rumors? People are always saying that Internet users' grandstanding can be exposed, what about government officials'? If you have a heart, then please spend more time exposing government officials.
找个说实话的地 微薄可以辟谣。我想知道,陈光诚何时能出来辟谣。临沂政府能否出来辟谣?一直想说,网友的作秀可以被揭露,官员的呢?谁来揭露。如果有心,请多多揭露官员们的吧。


Sina and Tencent Temporarily Shut Down Comments to Clean Up Rumors

These screenshots, taken on March 31, 2012 show notices that began being displayed to users on that day:


Recently, rumors and other harmful information that has been transmitted by Weibo users has had an adverse impact on society, and relatively more harmful information has appeared in comments to posts, and needs to be comprehensively purified. Therefore, this website has decided that, from 8 am March 31 until 8 am April 3 , the comment function on Weibos will be temporarily suspended. We therefore ask for you understanding for any inconvenience this has caused.
Recently, comments on Weibos have included a relatively large amount of rumors and other illegal and harmful information. In order to carry out a comprehensive cleansing, from 8 am on March 31 until 8 am on April 3 the commenting function on weirs will be temporarily suspended. After the cleansing, we will re-enable the commenting functionality. This necessary cleansing of information is being conducted in order to provide a better environment for exchanges for everyone, and we hope that users will understand and make allowances. We thank everyone for their support.

Baidu, Sina, and Tencent Promise to Crack Down on Rumors

On April 13, 2012, the China Daily published an article entitled "Major web portals voice resolution to banish rumors." Some excerpts:
Chiefs of, and promised the government that they will firmly cooperate with relevant departments to crack down on the online spreading of rumors, saying they will improve self-management and take effective measures toward this goal.
Below are translations of statements by "responsible people" from Sina, Baidu, and Tencent as cited in an April 10, 2012 report on the Southern Daily website entitled "Sina, Baidu, Tencent and Others Web Sites Respond to Calls to Put a Stop to Online Rumors " (新浪、百度、腾讯等网站响应倡议抵制网络谣言):
A Sina official said that it is every Internet platform service company's responsibility to create a healthy and orderly content environment and avoid the production and spread of rumors, and that Weibo will absolutely not become a breeding ground for the production and spread of rumors. To address various Weibo users who repeatedly fabricated and maliciously spread the so-called "military vehicles enter the capital" and other rumors, Sina assembled the Weibo, technical, and other departments to formulate a clear action plan to discover and address loopholes, and increase the degree of screening for malicious rumors spreading on Weibo, and improved emergency prevention measures. Currently, Sina is perfecting content management measures and work coordination mechanisms, and is putting in place a chain of procedures to discover, process, investigate, and report Internet rumors. The Sina official said that Sina's cleansing work had been supported and understood by the users, and in the future Sina would continue to guide users in participating in Weibo rumor refutation work.
A Baidu official said that, as the world's largest Chinese search engine, Baidu has already become the largest portal for China's Internet, and that when using a search engine people not only want to get information fast, they were also increasingly demanding information that is true and safe. Therefore, it is critical for search services to provide true and accurate information. Currently, Baidu is carrying out comprehensive administration of illegal and false information on web search. At the same time, it is increasing the coordination between administrative and technical resources to construct more unified mechanisms. Baidu also launched a "Sunshine Campaign," utilizing human inspection reviews and launched Internet user reporting and other means to attack false information. Baidu will also further increase the degree of technical and administrative involvement in order to guard against the transmission of false information and provide stronger safeguards.
A Tencent official said that Information security is the lifeblood Internet enterprise development, and Internet enterprises must adopt effective measures to maintain a harmonious and stable Internet environment. Because of the special characteristics of Weibos, it is easy for them to become a primary source and carrier for the spread of Internet rumors. Tencent is earnestly reviewing past experiences to further improve Weibo security policies and measures in order to control the spread of Internet rumors on Weibo to greatest extent possible and constantly raise the level of security administration and control. Tencent continues to carry out a comprehensive rectification and cleansing of its QQ Groups, QQ Spaces, search, and other interactive businesses.
Censored Article Leads to Rumors of Newspaper's Closure

On July 21, when Beijing suffered torrential rains, Sina Weibo censored searches relating to the death toll. For example, these screenshots show that, while a search on Sina Weibo in the evening of July 24 for "Beijing Downpour Death Toll" (北京暴雨死亡人数) returned over 9 million results, the same search the following day returned no results, just a notice saying "In accordance with relevant laws, regulations, and policies, search results for 'Beijing Downpour Death Toll' have not been displayed. (根据相关法律法规和政策,“北京暴雨死亡人数”搜索结果未予显示)

For more on that see:

On August 4, the state-sponsored Economic Observer published an article entitled "The Flood's Missing." An excerpt:
Beijing's "July 21" downpour came out of nowhere, causing the scenic mountain village of Shidu in Fangshan to lose contact with the outside world and putting many tourists in life-threatening peril. After the flood waters receded, the Shidu city government announced "Under the correct leadership of the Fangshan district government, and through the united efforts and brave struggles of the entire village, not one single citizen or tourist died in the village, and disaster relief efforts have been victorious." The Shidu police station also said: "Faced with the Juman River overflowing its banks, a miracle was achieved in that there was not one single injury or fatality amongst the citizens and tourists in Shidu."
In fact, the Fangshan government notices neglected to mention the situation with respect to missing people. In Shidu, it seems everyone knew about "the three people swept away in the flood at Pudu village." After a detailed investigation, this paper's reporters have come to understand that, at 8 pm on July 21, at the Pudu Water Park beside Bridge No. 11 in Shidu, Ma Hailong, Hou JIan, and Yang Han were swept away following failed rescue efforts, and that there has been no word from them for over ten days. On the afternoon of August 3, Yang Han's family told this paper via telephone that Yang Han's corpse had been found in Laishui county in Hebei, and that the family was on the way to Laishui.
This article contradicted an article published on July 26 by the state-sponsored Beijing Daily entitled "Not a Single Citizen or Tourist Injured or Killed in Shidu" (十渡区域百姓游客无一伤亡).

These screenshots, taken on August 6, show that the article was subsequently deleted from both the HTML and ePaper versions of the Economic Observer's website.

These screenshots show that Tencent began censoring searches for "Economic Observer" (经济观察报) on its Weibo some time on August 6 or 7, 2012.

On the evening of August 7, the following posts appeared on Sina Weibo:

5:11 pm, from the Economic Observer:
Friends: The Economic Observer is operating as usual; information saying that this publisher has been investigated and closed is pure rumor. Thanks for everyone's concern.
5:59 pm, from the Beijing Government Information Office:
Beijing Announces: We have seen information online that the "Economic Observer" has been "closed." Following confirmation from the city's agonies responsible for the administration of culture, we have an official response: this is absolutely not true, and this is purely a rumor.
Less than an hour later, the People's Daily website published a report entitled "Online Rumors Say the Economic Observer Was Investigated and Shuttered for Investigative Reporting on Beijing Floods - Official Say That's Pure Rumor." (网传经济观察报报道京暴雨调查被查封 官方:纯属造谣)

None of these posts or reports discussed why the Economic Observer's article was no longer available where it had originally been posted.

Sina Weibo Rumor Busting In Action

On November 22, 2012, Sina Weibo user "Ju Che" (巨扯) posted the following:
Li Xiang, the reporter who broke the gutter oil story, was killed. Now Jiang Weisuo, the man who took on the milk industry to expose melamine, is murdered. Immediately following that are reports that Li Yuanlong, the reporter of the five homeless kids who froze to death, has now been secretly  detained. The public servants of this dynasty are not taking care of the issues raised by the people, but instead are taking care of the people who raise the issues.
曾曝光地沟油的记者李翔被杀了, 曾曝光三聚氰胺的乳业打假人士蒋卫锁如今遇害了,当下报道毕节五名流浪儿童被冻死的记者李元龙如今被秘密逮捕了——我朝公仆们不是解决人民提出的问题,而是先解决提出问题的人民。

Sina administrators placed the following notice at the top the post: "This content is not factual information, and has already been handled. Details >>" (此内容为不实消息,已处理。 详情>>).

That notice included a link labeled "Details" which pointed to a page showing the Sina Weibo user "Quanzhou Sui Sui Nian" (泉州碎碎念) had made a complaint against "Ju Che" and posted the following:
Quanzhou's Report on Ju Che
The "Reporter Li Xiang Case" was already broken in September 2011, and police determined that the case had nothing to do with gutter oil, see this detailed information: The reported person's words and deeds constitute the "publication of false information."

The "" link pointed to a Sina Weibo post from December 2011 which read:
Yesterday users published Weibos saying "Luoyang TV reporter Li Xiang who investigated gutter oil stabbed 10 times." Following an investigation, this case was already resolved back in September, with the police investigation determining that the case had nothing to do with reporting on gutter oil, and that it was a case of robbery-murder. Li Xiang's father also said that his son had never reported on the topic of gutter oil. Related report:
The "" link pointed to a story on the state-sponsored website entitled: "The Case of the Murdered Luoyang Journalist: Family Confirm It had Nothing to Do With Gutter Oil Reporting." (洛阳记者被害案:家属证实与地沟油报道无关)

Sina Weibo administrators put a red seal on Quanzhou Sui Sui Nian's post labeling it "The Winner." (胜诉)

Putting aside for the moment the question of whether or not Ju Che's post actually claimed Li Xiang's murder had anything to do with gutter oil, Ju Che may have been relying on a September 20, 2011 report from the Communist Party-sponsored People's Daily entitled "'Gutter Oil' Reporter Killed." That report stated:
Police are refusing to rule out the possibility that a journalist stabbed to death on Monday was murdered, possibly due to a recent "gutter oil" scandal.
. . . .
Li's laptop was missing and police say early investigations suggest it was a robbery homicide. However, as he was stabbed so many times, detectives are keeping an open mind to other motives. A reward of 20,000 yuan ($3,000) is being offered for information about the incident.
Media across Henan province, as well as many netizens, have speculated that Li was killed after posting a micro blog on Sept 15 about a suspected underground factory producing illegally recycled kitchen oil, commonly referred to as gutter oil.


Zhejiang Daily Censors Story Where Rumors of Official Corruption Turned Out to be True

On January 17, 2013, China's official news agency Xinhua reported that Yi Junqing (衣俊卿), director of the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, had been removed from his post for "living an improper lifestyle." (生活作风问题)

On January 18, the Zhejiang Daily published an editorial entitled "Mouth Full of Marxism, Belly Full of Deceit" (满嘴马列,满腹盗娼) here - Below, the left-hand screenshot shows the article as it appeared on January 18. The right-hand screenshot shows that same page as it appeared on January 20.

Some excerpts:
Yesterday evening after six a breaking news bulletin (so short it could not have been any shorter) was posted at the top of major web sites -- according to information confirmed by relevant agencies, Yi Junqing had been deemed unsuited to remain at his post as director of the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee on the grounds that he had been living an improper lifestyle, and had been dismissed from his position.
Prior to this, the story of Yi Junqing and Chang Yan had remained suspended in the realm of "fiction." Chang Yan, a post-doctorate who had previously published a 120,000 character tell-all and filed a complaint against Yi Junqing using her real name (including details of 17 hotel rendezvous), had just last month deleted posts and on December 12, 2012 had undertook to refute those facts as rumors, saying the content of her real name complaints were just "fiction written in a moment of insanity," and that she hoped everyone would just laugh it off.
Looking back on this now, it seems that every Internet user insisted on believing that the "fiction" was in fact a record of actual events, that Chang Yan's rumor refuting must have been the result of some pressure, and they continued to follow the story, waiting for the veil to be lifted to see what really lay beneath. And last night, when the news of Yi Junqing's dismissal broke, it confirmed the expertise and "cunning" of these Internet users.

Sites Censor Information About Yuan Liya, Migrant Worker Who Died in Beijing, Authorities Arrest Boyfriend and Others for Spreading Rumors

On May 9, 2013, the state-sponsored China Daily published an article entitled "Death of Girl at Mall Triggers Large Protest." Some excerpts:
Yuan Liya, 22, died after plunging from the seventh floor of a mall last week, and police say initial findings point to suicide. 
However, by Wednesday morning, hundreds of people had gathered outside the Jingwen coat wholesale outlet in the capital's Fengtai district to call for further investigations into the tragedy. 
. . . . 
Duan Xiuying, who runs a shop in nearby Dahongmen market, said Yuan also had a part-time job at Dahongmen, which is open only in the morning. She said the protest started late on Tuesday, with only dozens of people at first. 
"I wanted to join in and call for a thorough investigation, but when I arrived, it had been blocked by police," said Duan, who hails from Hebei province.
On May 22, the China Daily published an article entitled "13 Arrested in Beijing for Rumormongering." Some excerpts:
Police in Beijing said Tuesday that 13 people have been arrested for allegedly spreading rumors and disrupting public order by inciting a protest after a young woman's death earlier this month. 
A statement from the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau said the woman surnamed Yuan, who fell to death from a clothing market building in Fengtai District on May 3, had committed a suicide.
. . . .
Yuan's death, however, spawned swirling rumors on the Internet claiming she had been raped and murdered by the building's security guards, which prompted a protest outside the building on May 8, the statement said. 
Police said Yuan's boyfriend surnamed Peng allegedly spread the rumors online to call for Yuan's fellow townsmen from east Anhui province to "demand an answer" from the market, as he was unsatisfied by the market's handling of Yuan's death. 
Police have arrested Peng and 12 others, including one of Yuan's former classmates and 11 of her fellow townsmen, who allegedly helped spread the rumors and incited the rally.
The following screenshots were taken on May 8, and show that almost every major search engine in China was completely censoring searches for "Jingwen" (京温).

These screenshots show that Tencent's Soso search engine started censoring searches for "Jingwen" on May 9.

These screenshots taken on May 8 show Sina Weibo censoring search results for "Jingwen" (京温), "Yuan Liya" (袁利亚), "Dahongmen" (大红门), "Yongdingmen" (永定门), "Muxiyuan" (木樨园), and "Helicopter" (直升机).

Baidu Censors Searches Relating to Rumor That Minister Accepted Bribes and Drank Human Milk"
On July 22, 2013, China-based web portal published an article entitled "Hong Kong Media: Xinhua Reporter Exposes Minister Accepted Bribes and Drank Human Milk." (港媒:新华社记者曝正部级官员接受贿赂喝人奶) An excerpt:
According to a report in the Ta Kung Pao, some officials are vicious beyond measure, and a Xinhua correspondent has published a post stating that several years ago a minister-level official participated in expensive parties thrown by wealthy businessmen at a time when he was still a deputy-minister. One of the dishes was the breast milk of a beautiful woman, and every guest was accompanied by a young, beautiful, naked girl. 
This screenshot shows that a search for the title of that article in quotes on Baidu on July 27 returned no results, just a censorship notice.

These screenshots show why - shortly after the article was published, Baidu began restricting search results for the title of that article to a white list of about a dozen web site controlled by the central government and the Communist Party.
Baidu's censorship coincided with the publication of a denial of the story by Xinhua on China-based web portal Sohu's "Rumor" web site. According to that story:
We have learned that the correspondent Zhou Fang was merely an evening English editor, who usually did not take part in news reporting, and had absolutely no means of knowing what supposedly goes on behind the scenes, and his real name report is utter nonsense. The aforementioned [Xinhua insider] went on to disclose that every year Zhou Fang "exposes" something online, but everything he has exposed was proven to be false.