China launches campaign against online rumors ahead of party congress

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China’s cyberspace watchdog said on Friday it would a launch a three-month campaign to clear up “rumors and false information involving major meetings,” just weeks before the ruling Communist Party holds its five-yearly congress.

General Secretary Xi Jinping is poised to secure a historic third leadership term at the congress, which is due to start on October 16.


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The weeks immediately preceding this politically sensitive event are usually busy periods for the country’s sprawling public security and online police apparatus, tasked with ensuring stability at all costs.

While the congress was not mentioned in the announcement on Friday, the first “work task” of the campaign was to deal “strictly and quickly” with “rumors and false information involving major meetings, important events, and important policy announcements,” according to a statement published on the official WeChat account of the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC).

Xi is all but guaranteed to secure a third term as party general secretary, which will break a norm adhered to by his two predecessors to step down after 10 years, or two full terms.

The CAC, which wields outsize influence in deciding what gets taken down or promoted on China’s highly-censored Internet, said that the campaign targeting online rumors would be “guided by General Secretary Xi Jinping’s important thoughts on a strong cyberspace.”

It also said the campaign would “increase the punishment of rumor-mongering behavior, investigate and expose typical cases to form a strong deterrent, maximize the squeezing of space for online rumors and false information space.”

Under Xi, online speech has become further constrained, with social media platforms recently being imposed heavy fines if they fail to tackle discourse the Party considers unfavorable to its interests.

Besides policing rumors about “major meetings,” the CAC said that other tasks in its campaign included stopping rumors about epidemics, the economy, public security, as well as the slandering of China’s “heroes and martyrs.”

It also said that it would supervise online platforms to improve technologies capable of tracing and containing active and even potential rumor-mongers, such as influential online accounts not affiliated with or run by the state.

“Do a good job of incremental containment, strengthen daily monitoring and analysis,” the CAC said.

“When it comes information that is impactful and spread far by non-authoritative sources, take the initiative to the relevant departments for verification, swiftly identify and dispose, strive to nip new rumors and false information in the bud.”

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