China’s top internet regulator has pledged to keep cracking down on misinformation and rumours related to Covid-19 and other social issues, as the country continues to tighten its control over online speech. The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), which has in recent years established itself as an authority over the veracity of online information, said on Wednesday that fake information on social media and short video platforms has sowed panic, anxiety and anger over the government’s Covid policies, among other issues. As part of the regulator’s latest campaign, rumours related to pandemic prevention, emergencies and societal issues will become key targets of a renewed clampdown, according to a notice by the CAC. The agency said that to date, it has shut down 2,800 accounts on major platforms for fabricating and spreading false information. Those platforms included short video apps Douyin and Kuaishou, microblogging site Weibo, video sharing site Bilibili, Instagram-like app Xiaohongshu, Q&A site Zhihu, film and literature discussion forum Douban, and various platforms run by Tencent Holdings. To ensure that the country’s over 1 billion internet users can only access information deemed appropriate by the state, Beijing adopts a heavy-handed approach in controlling speech in cyberspace. The government runs a website dedicated to fighting online rumours, and started a campaign in August to label what authorities consider fake news – more than 3,300 examples have been found so far. The Chinese authority’s efforts to dictate what counts as truth, has however, backfired at times. Public outrage flared in 2020 after it emerged that Dr Li Wenliang – an ophthalmologist who was one of the first people to warn about an outbreak of Covid-19 in Wuhan – was reprimanded by the local police for spreading rumours. The government’s initial suppression of vital information about the pandemic has pushed citizens to share their grievances online. In a recent example, a WeChat article attracted wide attention as the author detailed how she was put under a 15-day hotel quarantine because she inadvertently entered the place where a close contact had done a Covid test. In its notice on Wednesday, the CAC cited instances where people had published rumours related to the pandemic, such as an account on Tencent’s social app QQ that said people may develop lung nodules after receiving Covid-19 vaccines. Other examples included a rumour about a woman who had to get on her knees to beg for food from a pandemic volunteer, and another alleging that the port city of Tianjin would be locked down for three days from October 1. The regulator also listed rumours that “misled internet users and seriously disrupted public order”, including an account on Tencent’s WeChat that said there were large-scale flight cancellations across the country. “We will strictly punish the fabrication and spreading of rumours in accordance with the law, continue to publicise typical cases, strengthen exposure to warn against crimes, and guide netizens to consciously resist online rumours and misinformation,” the CAC said.