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500 reposts on Chinese social media could land you in jail

Popular figures on Chinese social media could inadvertently find themselves in serious trouble with a new law passed in the country.

Stuart Thomas: Senior Reporter
Stuart Thomas joined the Burn Media team in 2011 while finishing off an MA in South African Literature. Eager to prove his geek credentials, he allowed himself... More

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According to Reuters anyone caught posting an online rumour that is widely distributed online will now face up to three years in prison. What would entail something being widely distributed? Well, according to China’s top court and prosecutor, people will be arrested for creating rumours online if something they post is reposted more than 500 times or is viewed more than 5 000 times.

“People have been hurt and reaction in society has been strong, demanding with one voice serious punishment by the law for criminal activities like using the internet to spread rumors and defame people,” court spokesman Sun Jungong told reporters.

“No country would consider the slander of other people as ‘freedom of speech’,” he added.

According to Reuters, the interpretation also sets out what is considered a “serious case” of spreading false information or rumours online, and includes those which cause “mental anguish” to the offended parties.

Other serious cases reportedly include any which could incite protests, ethnic or religious unrest or has a “bad international effect”.

As US tech news site The Verge notes, this is just the latest bid by the Chinese state to crack down on what it deems to be false rumours spread on Chinese social media.

Under state pressure, Sina Weibo — one of China’s largest social networks — banned people from spreading rumours back in 2011. In May the next year, it instituted real name rules in a bid to further curb the spread on online rumours.

While officials say the new laws will make it easier to curb smear campaigns online, there are concerns over the low thresholds required to fall foul of the state and some think that it’s just another measure against online freedom in the country.