Baidu Inc. (BIDU) and Sina Corp. (SINA) are among Chinese Internet companies that have jointly created a website for refuting rumors, the latest step in government efforts to increase scrutiny of information spread online.
The website officially began operations yesterday under the oversight of the Beijing Internet Information Office and the Beijing Internet Association, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. Sohu.com Inc. (SOHU) and NetEase Inc. (NTES) also contributed to creating the site, which is hosted by Qianlong.com, a news portal controlled by the Beijing city government.
The site refutes rumors collected from Twitter-like microblog services, news portals and other websites. One entry detailed the rumor a woman in the city of Qingdao was sent a kangaroo when she bought milk powder online from Australia. Qingdao police and customs officials were cited saying they’d never received reports of such an incident, according to the entry. Other rumors refuted include those of misconduct by government officials.
Social media sites including Sina Weibo have become the main platforms used by Chinese citizens to expose corruption and wrongdoing in a country where all newspapers, television and radio stations are state-owned. A vice chairman of China’s economic planning agency was fired in May after a Chinese journalist posted allegations of improper business dealings on his microblog.
“China is unique in that social media has become such an important venue for news,” said Doug Young, author of the book “The Party Line: How the Media Dictates Public Opinion in Modern China.” The rumor refuting website is the government’s attempt to have a voice in the information flow that can result in serious damage to reputations, he said.
China censors the Internet by blocking access to websites with pornography, gambling and content critical of the Communist Party. Earlier measures to increase control over the spread of information online include rules requiring individuals to provide identification when signing up for Internet services and registering their real names when opening a microblog account.
The nation was home to more than 591 million web users at the end of June, according to the China Internet Network Information Center. That’s more than the population of any country except India.
“The government is quite annoyed about how the spread of information is getting out of control on microblogs, so they are stepping up control efforts,” said Wen Yunchao, a visiting scholar at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. “Though there’s little use in this if people don’t believe in the government in the first place.”
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