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China, Taiwan crack down on web users

Chinese police have begun arresting people for spreading what they deem to be false rumours online, as authorities intensify their efforts to retain control over online content.

According the State Internet Information Office a university student in the southwest province of Yunnan was detained for spreading fake information about a local murder.

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A man in Shanghai, meanwhile, was taken into custody for fifteen days for posting falsified tax documents online.

The newly established authority says police are also investigating the whereabouts of those responsible for posting false information found on three popular websites.

It did not, however, reveal what kind of information had been posted.

China has always sought to control its half-billion strong internet population, blocking any content it deems politically sensitive through a vast censorship system – popularly known as the “Great Firewall” of China.

The recent crackdown, though, follows a wave of governmental criticism on China’s incredibly popular weibos.

The likes of Tencent Weibo and Sina Weibo, each of which stands toe-to-toe with Western equivalent Twitter in terms of user numbers, have made controlling access to information incredibly difficult.

More and more Chinese are turning to weibos to vent their anger over government corruption, scandals and disasters in a country where authorities maintain a tight grip on the media.

Ordinary users are not the only ones affected by the crackdown. A number of websites have been under increasing pressure to identify and punish users deemed to be spreading false rumours.

Following a visit from a high-ranking government official earlier this year, Sina Weibo said it would suspend the accounts of any users caught spreading “false” rumours.

A statement from the State Internet Information Office, meanwhile, said that a website editor had been warned for publishing a weibo entry concerning the recent crash of an air force fighter jet “without confirming the source and facts”.

“Authorities will step up efforts to stop rumours and punish individuals and websites spreading rumours,” the statement said.

China’s crackdown has been mirrored, to some extent, in Taiwan. The focus there though, is more commercial than political.

Authorities plan to fine bloggers who make false claims or exaggerate on the behalf of products and companies.

The move is bid to curb an increasing number of consumer disputes.

According to local media, some bloggers are paid up to Tw$70,000 (US$2 300) per review.

The reviews are frequently disguised as innocent journal entries but actually talk up products and services in a bid to lure in customers.

A recent controversy involved a blogger with an average daily hit-rate of 140 000 who fabricated photographs demonstrating the effect of beauty products.

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