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China Exclusive: Micro-charity faces credibility crisis

(Xinhua)

08:16, June 28, 2012

NANJING, June 27 (Xinhua) -- As micro-blog changes philanthropy by lowering the threshold for charitable participation, false information -- easily spread over the Internet -- is eroding the credibility of micro-blog-based charity programs.

The grass-root charitable online organization "Baby back home," dedicated to helping people find lost family members, posted on its Sina Weibo account Monday that a 10 years old girl had gone missing in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu province.

The "Daughter, where are you?" titled post was forwarded more than 40,000 times within several minutes after it appeared online. However, police said the post was fabricated later that day.

The public has condemned the creator of the false information. News anchor Zhang Lingquan posted on Sina Weibo that the incident had damaged people's confidence in society and the credibility of micro-blogs.

A volunteer for an organization that addresses false information, nicknamed "laogui" on the micro-blog site, said he chatted online Sunday with a person who claimed to be the mother of a missing girl. She talked about how she had lost her daughter and sent him a photo of the girl.

After publishing the information about the missing girl on the micro-blog, the organization could not contact the "mother," he said.

"laogui" said, almost all the 20,000 volunteers in the organization had seen this kind of "cheating" before.

Zhang Baoyan, founder of "Baby back home," said since the launch of the organization's website five years ago, more than 16,000 messages had been posted by users looking for missing relatives, while false information would be posted every two to three days.

Zhang said, "If we raise the threshold and ask people who come for help to provide detailed identity evidence, many will be kept out of the door, If we do not do so, we will inevitably receive some false information which will damage our credibility."

"These kinds of incidents are hard to avoid, and we are very hesitant about whether we should continue using the micro-blog as a platform for spreading information," Zhang sighed.

False information posted online can deal a fatal blow to micro-charities, said Deng Fei, director of the journalist department of Phoenix Weekly, and founder of the "Free Lunch" project for students living in remote areas.

Aiming at regulating the micro-blog users' behavior, Sina Weibo issued the country's first "community convention" last month, stressing that its micro-blog users should not post false information online.

On the same day, the site also issued another regulation and a community committee system on the management of micro-blogs.

Hu Yadong, operation manager of Sina Weibo, said the moves are aimed at establishing a mechanism to curb the spread of false information online.

The volunteers of "Baby back home" who were involved in the incident were forbidden from posting on Sina Weibo for 15 days starting Monday, which is in line with the newly-issued regulation, Hu said.

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