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Sina Shuts Down Users’ Microblogs as China Fights Online Rumors

Sina Corp. (SINA), operator of the Twitter-like Weibo service in China, shut four user accounts for spreading rumors as authorities tighten control of information spread through microblog services.

The accounts were shut after people used the service to “fabricate and circulate harmful political rumors on the Internet,” the company said in a notice sent to microblog users yesterday. Sina identified the accounts by their Chinese- language usernames, without naming the owners.

China on Mar. 31 ordered a 72-hour halt on the comment functions on Sina and Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s microblog services, after authorities detained six people for spreading rumors of a coup attempt in Beijing. Those rumors on March 20 helped spark the biggest jump in four months in the cost of insuring against a default on Chinese government bonds.

“The rumor situation is a big problem,” said Bill Bishop, an independent media consultant in Beijing, who also received the notice from Sina. “It’s not Weibo’s fault, but Weibo is not helping the problem.”

Liu Qi, a spokesman for Sina in Beijing, didn’t immediately reply to an e-mail or calls to his mobile phone seeking comment today.

Chinese authorities detained the six people last month for “fabricating or disseminating online rumors” that military vehicles had entered Beijing and that “something wrong” was happening in the Chinese capital, the official Xinhua News Agency reported on Mar. 31. The ban against commenting on microblog entries began that day and ended April 3.

Bo Xilai

The speculation about a coup attempt came five days after Bo Xilai, earlier seen as a contender for promotion to China’s top decision-making body, was removed as Communist Party chief of the municipality of Chongqing. China announced April 10 that Bo had been suspended from his party positions and that his wife was suspected of being involved in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.

Government oversight of microblogging services has tightened as they’ve grown in popularity. Sina and Tencent each have more than 300 million registered microblog users.

In December, China began requiring users in cities including Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen to register their real names. That rule will be expanded to other regions, Wang Chen, minister of the State Council Information Office, said in January.

Sina accounted for 65 percent of China’s microblog market by pageviews in December, compared with 27 percent for Tencent (700), according to a Jan. 12 report by BOCOM International.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Lee in Hong Kong at wlee37@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Tighe at mtighe4@bloomberg.net

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