A fabricated report on pollution at Mount Everest – which included claims of abandoned bodies and tonnes of human waste – is the latest fake news scandal to hit China. The viral story, which first appeared on a public account on social media platform WeChat early last week, was prompted by the closure of the Chinese north base camp to clear rubbish. The false report used a number of fake photos and cited misleading but eye-catching figures – including a claim that visitors to the mountain left behind 12 tonnes of human waste each year. It also claimed the trail was littered with so many abandoned bodies of unsuccessful climbers that they were regarded as “road signs”. The story also exaggerated the extent of the closure, saying the entire reserve would be off limits. Authorities were forced to clarify that tourists could still visit the areas around Rongpo monastery, while access to base camp – 2km above the monastery –and higher would be restricted to those with climbing permits. China closes Everest base camp to tourists until further notice to tackle mountain of rubbish The false report was deleted from the account, but not before it was widely shared, triggering an outcry from several mountaineers familiar with the real state of Everest, according to online news portal Thecover.cn. Ciren Danda, a member of the Tibetan Mountaineering Team who has scaled Everest four times, told Thecover.cn that the north base camp in Tibet had eco-friendly toilets and that there had not been enough visitors to create the large volume of waste claimed by the fake article. Mali Muya, a Chinese mountaineer who scaled Mount Everest in 2016, said rubbish was an issue in the Himalayas, but there had been stricter regulation of late. “It’s irresponsibly misleading to publish pictures of some random garbage collection station and say the rubbish belongs to Everest,” she said, referring to several pictures included with the report which did not depict the north side of the mountain as claimed. Yang Xianfeng, another Chinese climber who reached the top of the mountain in 2017, pointed out the falsity of claims in the article about the remains of dead mountaineers. Yang said climbers on that route would see only one body, known locally as the “Green Boots” at an elevation of more than 8,600 metres. There were eight other bodies on the north side of the mountain, he told Thecover.cn, but they were all out of sight of the climbing route. China has been grappling with the problem of fake news since the rise of social media. WeChat has blocked 500 million postings in fight against fake news Chinese academic publication Journalism Review, which publishes an annual study on the phenomenon, said last month the sharing of false information on Weibo – China’s microblogging platform – and WeChat by professional media outlets was helping fake stories to spread more quickly. In its review of the “top 10 fake news stories of 2018”, Journalism Review gave the example of a story reported in May by Chongqing Youth Daily on its official account at news app Toutiao. The story – of a college student sued for stealing 3.8 million yuan (US$560,000) +from a lottery website by hacking – turned out to be made up by a gambling website, with all accompanying photos taken from unrelated news reports. Professor Huang Hu, from Fudan University’s Journalism School, said that, apart from social media, a boom in “self-media” had also led to the rise of misinformation. Independently operated accounts on platforms such as Weibo and WeChat, often run by individual users, had become an important source of “news” on the mainland, he said. While some of these channels were run by good journalists with a dedicated readership and provided content that was often taboo for official media, most were considered spurious sources of false, vulgar and often violent content masquerading as news, Huang said. “People behind those accounts often lack journalistic knowledge. They are incapable of verifying news and only want to grab eyeballs,” he said. Huang said that, while journalists needed to work on their professionalism, the general public also needed to develop better media literacy. Beijing recently launched an initiative to clean up social media, citing distortion of government policy, immorality and plagiarism among the reasons for the move. The clean-up saw more than 110,000 social media accounts shut down by late December, and the removal of nearly 500,000 articles.