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Experts demand harsh sanctions to curb online rumors

(Xinhua)

08:10, April 16, 2012

BEIJING, April 15 (Xinhua) -- Experts in China are calling for stricter criminal sanctions to those caught fabricating and spreading rumors online, following the authorities' crackdown on what they call a rampant spread of rumors on the Internet.

"Spreading rumors online infringes on people's individual rights," said Beijing Yue Cheng Law Firm chairman Yue Cheng. "In some serious cases, it could induce public panic, which could damage the social management order."

China now has a number of laws and regulations which outline punishments to be meted out to rumormongers, including criminal law and regulations on information services on the Internet.

According to the criminal law, promulgating rumors, or raising false alarms about accidents or epidemics, doesn't necessarily constitute a crime, but the perpetrator can be detained or fined, Yue said.

Otherwise, if crimes are constituted, including libel, infringement of business reputation and interruption of social order, he will be prosecuted for relevant criminal responsibilities.

China has nearly 500 million Internet users and more than 300 million microbloggers, who release almost 200 million posts on microblogging sites daily. Microblogs have become an influential field of public opinion.

Rapid Internet popularization brings higher levels of freedom of speech but also enables information, and rumors in particular, to spread more quickly.

"Freedom and responsibility are inseparable in the field of information transmission," said Liao Shengqing, dean of the communication department of the Journalism School, Fudan University. "For this reason, citizens should shoulder corresponding social liabilities when spreading information."

He said people should express their views on the Internet within a scope allowed for by the law, adding that legal procedures as well as an information disclosure mechanism should be established to combat rumor spreading.

Last month, police in Beijing detained six individuals for allegedly fabricating and spreading the rumors about "military vehicles entering Beijing" and something "wrong" happening in the capital.

Similar rumors have frequently caused social panic in the past. Last year, an online post decrying "a salt shortage" after the tsunami crippled the Japanese Fukushima nuclear power plant triggered panic buying and hoarding of table salt in China.

An unidentified official from the State Internet Information Office said that online rumors have become "malignant tumors" which interrupt social order and have impeded the development of China's Internet industry,adding that those caught spreading rumors will be severely punished according to the law.

The office revealed on Thursday that more than 210,000 online posts have been removed and 42 websites have been closed down since mid-March in the nation's latest crackdown on Internet-based rumors.

Beijing University sociology professor Xia Xueluan said that new characteristics have shown up in online rumors in recent years, describing them as subtle, intellectual, sensational, and even emotionally cathartic.

He added that these new characteristics have turned the online rumors into a factor which can arouse social unrest and jeopardize public security.

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