Chinese police target 17-year-old over fake Xinhua news report on ‘poverty hero’

News agency says it alerted police when it discovered the sham article online

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 September, 2018, 1:01am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 September, 2018, 1:01am

Police in eastern China are investigating a 17-year-old accused of posting fake photos of himself with world leaders and a sham media report touting him as a hero in the war against poverty.

Police claimed that the unemployed youth from Jinan, Shandong province, put a fake news article online that was purportedly from state-run Xinhua News Agency praising him as a “poverty alleviation hero”.

In a statement on microblogging service Weibo, Jinan police said the youth allegedly released the material to “satisfy his vanity”. It did not say if he had been detained or gained financially from the article.

The police identified the youth by his surname “Shi” and the second character of his given name, “Long”.

The fake Xinhua report described him as the founder of several companies who visited a village in Lianyuan, Hunan province, to help with poverty-eradication efforts. A Photoshopped image of him in the trip was tied to the story.

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The Lianyuan city government denied any connection with Shi, Shanghai-based news outlet reported.

According to Chinese media reports, a person identified as “Shi Runlong” appeared in a number of earlier reports in small news outlets as a board member of the Japanese Red Cross Society and a director of the Shandong Internet Economic Research Centre, which does not exist.

Images of a youth with the same name standing together with US President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, and former US president Barack Obama were also circulated online.

Xinhua said on Friday that it had discovered the fake article and called the police.

The police statement alleged Shi paid others to write the articles and doctor the photos, exerting a “bad social influence”.

Chinese authorities have been cracking down on “online rumour-mongers” in recent years.

The Supreme People’s Court issued a legal interpretation against online rumours in 2013, saying that the deliberate creation and circulation of false information online that led to social disorder could be categorised as “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, a crime that can lead to up to five years in jail.