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Communist Party’s mouthpiece in China slams online rumours as two WeChat bloggers sentenced to prison

  • The comments by the Party’s official mouthpiece come amid intensified efforts by Beijing to tighten oversight over online content
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 October, 2018, 2:15pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 October, 2018, 11:23pm

People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of China’s ruling Communist Party, has warned content providers that “rumours cannot possess peoples’ minds,” and called upon all “internet participants” not to create rumours or believe in speculation, amid Beijing’s broad drive recently to tighten control over online content.

People’s Daily cited a recent court verdict in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, where two WeChat public account bloggers were sentenced to between eight months and one year in prison for crimes involving “picking quarrels and provoking troubles”.

In March, the WeChat bloggers in question posted articles saying that chairman Pan Gang, of Chinese state-owned dairy giant Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group, was taken away by the authorities to assist with investigations.

People’s Daily said this was only a rumour, which caused “panic to dairy farmers, Yili staff, Yili’s business partners and investors.”

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The comments by the Party’s official mouthpiece come amid intensified efforts by Beijing to tighten oversight over online content.

The clean-up campaign is aimed at any content deemed inappropriate, including sensitive political news, celebrity gossip, reporting of violent incidents and obscene materials.

In August, Apple said it had removed thousands of gambling apps from its Chinese App Store to comply with China’s regulations.

In June, regulators removed seven video apps, including 56.com and ordered another eight video apps, including Nasdaq-listed Bilibili, to be taken offline for a month.

That crackdown has in turn put more pressure on Chinese video platforms to put in place higher levels of self-censorship.

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Bilibili, which operates a popular Chinese platform to share video and animation, warned of higher operating costs due to an industry-wide crackdown when it reported quarterly earnings in August.

Bilibili’s CEO Chen Rui said in the earnings call that the company will not only “fully cooperate with the relevant authorities” but will also conduct self inspection of content and “double the headcount of content monitoring personnel”.

News apps have not escaped the clean-up either. In April, four such apps, including China’s most popular news app Jinri Toutiao, were removed from all app platforms for two weeks.

The crackdown has also notably impacted the country’s once-thriving gaming market.

There has been no new licences issued for any new games in China since March 28, contributing to a slowdown in China’s overall gaming market.

Revenue was up 5 per cent in the first half, the first single digit growth in at least a decade.

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China’s gaming titan Tencent Holdings also reported its first profit decline since 2005 in the second quarter.

“Only by resolutely resisting online rumours and severely punishing rumours and rumour creators, can we gain more sense of happiness and security from the internet,” concluded the People’s Daily article.