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Sichuan quake swings social media's double-edged sword (3)

By Han Qiao and Wu Qi (Xinhua)

18:52, April 23, 2013


Microblogs, however, are a double-edged sword. In addition to enhancing people's morale in times of disaster, they have struck discordant notes by whipping up undue panic.

During disasters, social media are often glutted with rumors. Early on Saturday afternoon, an 18-year-old netizen surnamed Lin and claiming to be a member of staff with the Chengdu Earthquake Administration delivered a news piece in a Baidu online forum reporting that the magnitude-7.0 quake in Lushan was only a foreshock. A magnitude 9.2-quake would hit Chengdu, the provincial capital, on April 22, he said. The teen was captured three hours later in Chengdu, and detained for 10 days for spreading rumors.

The Sichuan provincial public security department said local police had handled over 200 rumors by 2 p.m. on April 20.

Other Internet users have been critical of the rampant online misinformation. "You might have thought you are helping quake-hit people with information. But to those in disaster areas, it will only bring about fear and disorder," said one.

Hoaxes were prevalent in social media. On the night of April 20, a microblog call for help was forwarded nearly 1,000 times. "I'm trapped in No.156 Yanxi Road, Ya'an. One leg has become numb. Anyone nearby for help?" it read.

Later, the Chengdu Communist Youth League Committee stood out to refute the posting in its official microblog, saying the Ya'an police had answered the alarm several times, but the city did not have a Yanxi Road. The message had wasted precious telecommunications resources at a time of urgent need, the committee said.

Meanwhile, many rumors unjustly called authorities' responses into question. Among the erroneous claims were: "In national calamity, some state-owned TV stations remain filled with singing and dancing programs to extol good times"; "Airline companies take such occasions as opportunities to raise air fares, and all discounted tickets return to full fares"; and "The army's professional standards are too low to provide disaster relief."

Though netizens are generally quick to spot the lies, experts have bemoaned how the slander shows little respect to people doing everything in their power to come to the rescue.

Another danger is presented by opportunist online swindlers. As in other similar circumstances, these people are active to defraud people of their money by passing themselves off as worthily in need of funds -- charity workers, say, or individuals needing to return to Sichuan to check on their loved ones.

Zhang Yanqiu, an associate professor at the Communication University of China, said, "In the Internet age, means of spreading information are highly developed. Individuals are receivers and releasers of information. It has been a challenge to check on it all, eliminate the false and retain the true, and handle network risks.

"As a receiver, we must first question the information when reading and forwarding it. As a releaser, we must take into account social responsibility, and check facts, so as not to release and forward false information.

"The government should also enhance management and services, keep a sound framework to establish policies, and improve channels to release official information," said Zhang.

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Email|Print|Comments(Editor:HuangBeibei、Liang Jun)

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