BEIJING, July 23 -- Rumors about China's corruption fight are on the rise, seriously misleading the public and causing trouble for graft fighters.
Beijing police said Sunday that two people were arrested for fabricating news on twitter-like Weibo that a Beijing to Shanghai airline had been put under military control to seize an official. Police also confirmed that 37 other people have already been punished for fabricating or spreading similar false news.
Corrupt officials are exposed almost every week by disciplinary authorities. The public want to know who is next and tend to believe corruption-related topics online.
Some people have used this to make sensational statements to cheat the public, causing problems and making many feel uneasy. Their acts also affect the work of anti-corruption authorities, who have to spend time clarifying the truth.
Not only an important channel for the government to publicize information and for people to express themselves, the Internet has also become an effective whistleblowing tool. Clues like pricy watches and fancy villas posted online by people have led to the sacking of officials.
However, this is being challenged by the breeding of defamation and rumors.
The harm of rumors could be as slight as a damage to personal reputation, but also could be serious enough to affect social stability and the national image, especially when they are related to officials.
People must be rational and clear-headed when making comments online. It's understandable that people hate corrupt officials who steal public money and do nothing good for ordinary citizens, but any criticism must be based on facts rather than hearsay or mere slander.
Chinese courts can sentence people for up to three years in prison for writing defamatory comments online. In April, blogger Qin Zhihui was given a three-year jail term for affray and defamation.
The government launched a campaign this month to cleanse cyberspace and dish out heavier punishments to Internet rumormongers, with a number of websites being shut and people investigated.
But the government should also do more to improve its information transparency to reduce misunderstanding and blind speculation, which are also reasons why people are likely to believe and spread rumors.
Authorities should provide people with an authoritative channel to gain information about the corruption fight and clarify false information in a timely manner.