After Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt, ex-Google China chief Lee Kai-fu has become the latest celebrity to be rumoured dead on China's viral online community in hearsay that misled thousands.
China's social media on Friday evening was full of rumours that the ex-Google China chief and influential microblogger Lee, who has been publicly battling cancer, had passed on.
"2014-01-17, 20: 8:47, Kaifu passed due to illness," read a Weibo message posted by microblogger Ran Xiang. The news rapidly triggered thousands of reposts and comments. Many seemed saddened and even paid tributes to Lee. Others were unconvinced and questioned the credibility of the report.
Lee, who has largely withdrawn from social media since falling ill, eventually spoke out on Saturday morning to refute the allegations on Weibo.
"Thank you for your concerns and thoughts. I am all fine and I am here to dispel the rumour," he wrote.
"I have been getting treated, resting and doing exercise," Lee added.
The 51-year-old has been receiving treatment in Taipei after being diagnosed with lymphoma last year. He had about 20 tumours, mainly in the area of his abdomen, according to Chinese media.
Lee was in stable health and still took part in weekly company meetings over the phone, said Wang Zhaohui, a spokesman for Innovation Works, a Beijing-based tech start-up incubator founded by Lee.
While bloggers said they were relieved by Lee's statement, they lashed out at Ran for first starting the rumour .
According to Sina, Ran has been banned from publishing on Weibo for 15 days starting from Saturday, a punishment many microbloggers thought too lenient.
"How is 15-day-ban enough for making such a malicious comment? This account should be terminated permanently," wrote many.
Zhou Bin, a Beijing-based lawyer, said Ran Xiang might have broken the law by spreading the rumour, even though the posting was vaguely-worded. Whether Lee would take legal action, though, was another matter, Zhou said.
The official Legal Daily ran an opinion piece on Monday urging legal punishment against the rumour-monger.
"The way to weed out rumours is not to prohibit people from spreading them after the damage is done; legal actions should be taken too. Precautionary measures should be done to stop the tumour of rumour from spreading," it said.
The identity of Ran - who is known for making nationalistic and often Maoist comments - remained mysterious. Despite the feminine-sounding name, many speculated that the account was managed by a public relations team that intentionally creates controversies to garner attention. Which may explain why Ran has more than 800,000 followers on Weibo.