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People's Daily Online>>Opinion

Freedom of speech does not protect rumors


08:15, April 12, 2012

BEIJING, April 11 (Xinhua) -- As Chinese authorities crack down on various rumors spreading online that put social stability at risk, some people have argued that such rumors are protected under people's right to free speech.

However, rumors harm innocent individuals, filial harmony and social stability regardless of where or when they are spread, and rumors are completely irrelevant to the concept of freedom of expression.

Some people say that truth will eventually prevail, so we need to take a laissez-faire attitude toward rumors in a bid to let them run their course and eventually fade away.

China, however, has seen a series of rumors recently that have spread quickly and had far-reaching implications. The most recent example began on microblogs, where an Internet user posted about military vehicles entering Beijing amid a major incident, suggesting a coup.

Fabricating information is different from spreading unconfirmed information, as the two concepts are driven by different intentions. How could freedom of speech be defended if we turn our backs on slander? Can we tolerate fake of inferior products with the aim of promoting the free market?

Although wise people will not automatically accept rumors as the truth, in this era of fast-spreading information, many rumors have hurt innocent individuals before having a chance to be proven false. That's why most countries have laws or precedents to prevent or limit the dissemination of speech or ideas that, by their nature, carry the danger of substantive harm.

For this reason, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., former associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, wrote in the famous Schenck case that "the most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic."

Many judges and lawyers in China said that although the Internet is a virtual world, its users should assume the same legal responsibilities as they would in the real world.

"Free speech on the Internet cannot go without limits, as it should not infringe upon others' legitimate rights, nor should it harm the real society," said Cheng Bin, a lawyer from Beijing-based Guandao Law Firm, adding that civilians should fulfill their obligations of maintaining online order while enjoying their right to free speech.

Yue Cheng, a noted lawyer in China, said rumormongers should accept civic, administrative or even criminal liabilities according to the consequences of the rumors they perpetuate.

Chinese authorities have shut down 16 websites for "fabricating or disseminating online rumors," especially via microblog posts. Beijing police have arrested 1,065 suspects and deleted more than 208,000 "harmful" online messages as part of an intensive nationwide crackdown on Internet-related crimes conducted since mid-February.

While cracking down on rumors that endanger public and state security, authorities should also study the roots of rumors and public sentiment. A more open and transparent government and the immediate issuance of relevant information could improve the government's credibility and better dispel rumors.


Leave your comment4 comments

  1. Name

Jake Wagner at 2012-04-14173.29.208.*
I agree, measures do need to be taken to prevent rumors and foreign interest from infecting the web. The freedom of speech does not give you the right to slander and cause trouble. Sometimes individual "freedoms" must be sacrificed for the greater good.
Lao Tze at 2012-04-14111.192.13.*
well, yes, all right and true,- but in most cases rumors can also be a forewarning to something,- good or bad-, before they become public and real, in which cases they should be welcome. Rumors can be meant serious, or they can be meant funny, in a humerous way,.- one should take them as such.
Peter Ekström at 2012-04-1378.78.132.*
i agree freedom of speach should be used as an excuse to put anything forward without considering the consequence. There must be filters on the as it should be in the public live area. Otherwise the consequences could catastrophic. Wise men do not shout up anything they want they speak loudly and patiently when they have something fruitful to say. fruitful here means bringing to new developing facts to the table.Gentlemen do no dispute agreed facts the want to use energy for stabile development for the good for all good people."Enemies of the state should not be allowed to hide behind false clothes. Their goals are destructive to the selfes and most of all for stabile positive development of a STRONG UNITED CHINA. I CONGRATULATE THE CHINESE GOVERNMENT FOR HANDLING THESE MATTERS EFFICIENTLY AND STRONGLY AND I AM FULLY CONVINCE THAT CHINAS FUTURE ARE IN STRONG HANDS OF WISE PEOPLE WHO LOOK FORWARD LEARNING FROM PAST SUCCESSES AND MISTAKES IN BRING A GOOD FUTURE FOR THE CHINESE PEOPLE THAT IS AALL THE CURRENT CITIZENS OF THE REPUBLIC OF 1949. LONG LIVE THE REPUBLIC!
Jason W Smith, Ph.D. at 2012-04-1368.97.0.*
China has enemies and these enemies will try and subvert the Communist Party in anyway they can including and especially using the internet as an organizing tool. Strong measures have to be taken to prevent these foreign interests from succeeding and these first steps are in the right direction.

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